Saturday, October 27, 2012

Go Home - Bad Dog!!

As I have been working through the Deeper Still Bible study over the last month, a story by Priscilla Shirer really resonated with me and brought back some old memories that I'd like to share.  She spoke of a time when she was approached by a menacing dog while by herself on a walk; by raising her voice and jabbing at it with a stick, she was able to send that dog hightailing it out of there!  She compared this to the enemy's attacks against us that are often-times, "all bravado and no bite."    She further taught that "No matter how good he (the enemy) is at barking, he has already been rendered impotent."  The way she described it made me think of the following verse:

Colossians 2:15 (NLT)
In this way, he (Christ) disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.

That's some pretty serious stuff...not only did He DISARM them (or render them ineffective), He also SHAMED them publicly at the cross.  Make no mistake; that's a spectacle we're talking about.  As I rolled this around in my mind, I suddenly remembered stories of my own encounters with vicious dogs as we were growing up in a rural area north of Houston - I think I had blocked them out of my memory up until this point!

My twin and I enjoyed running and riding our bikes around our "neighborhood" if you could call it that.  Everyone had a couple of acres, no fences, and no HOA restrictions.  On one particular stretch, there were a couple of houses that had rottweilers and dobermans with no restraints whatsoever...ridiculous now that I think back on it.  They would come charging, and I mean charging with nostrils flared and teeth bared, out at us as we ran or biked innocently by.  Now, for even the bravest of us, that would be a terrifying sight...but I am far from the bravest of us...I'm actually kind of a wimp!  It would take every ounce of bravery and gumption that my 9 year-old self had to stand up tall and yell with all my might, "Go Home, Bad Dog, Get Out of Here!!"  It normally didn't work the first time; it took a bit of their edge off but they would keep coming.  And we would keep yelling over and over, and even have to run at them at times - but they would finally back off when they saw we were serious. 

Reading Priscilla's story brought back memories of that specific gut-wrenching fear that I had to PUSH down as I forced myself to be authoritative and show NO fear.  Now, of course, intellectually I know it to be true that I have authority over the enemy and that he has already been disarmed and shamed by Jesus Christ once and for all.  But, oh that fear, that can stop you in your tracks...

What are you facing in your life today that has literally frozen you in place and all you can see are the teeth and all you can hear is the barking?  The enemy will leave you alone, but it is going to take an exertion of your FAITH and WILL to stand up with all you have and say, "Go Home, Bad Dog, Get Out of Here!!"  (In Jesus name of course!)  It cannot be a half-hearted, wimpy prayer - that just won't work - not with what the people of God are facing today.  But when you do with all the bravado you can muster, just like those rottweilers and dobermans, the enemy will tuck his tail and run when he sees that you are serious. 

Ephesians 6:13
Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Unfulfilled Love Songs

How many over-the-top love songs have you heard and thought, "Wow, there is no way that actually happens in real life!"  Not just songs, but expand that to books, movies, etc.  Sure, some of us hope more than others that a "perfect" romantic relationship is out there somewhere; but if we are being honest, we would admit that we have come to expect little from love...yet we still yearn and long for a deepness of feeling and expression that continues to evade us.  Just look at the litany of media available along these lines - these stories are produced by human hearts and minds for a very consuming public; in a lot of them, you can hear the heart cry of the human race, ultimately looking for perfect love.  All of this makes me think of the following C.S. Lewis quote:  

"If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world." 

The eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing God of the universe created us to be the very objects of His affection and love.  Just try for a few seconds to wrap your mind around that...  Wouldn't it make sense that no relationship here on this earth could begin to satisfy the deep capacity of the reservoir for love He designed in each of us?

Ecclesiastes 3:11 - He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

As I have grown in my relationship with God over the last few years, I have begun to listen to these same songs, read these same books, and watch these same movies with a new set of eyes and ears.  Instead of immediately calling them out as sappy and unrealistic (yes, I admit that I am a recovering cynic), I choose to allow my heart and mind to entertain the idea that all of them just might be possible - except not with another human being but with the ONE who has always known and loved me from the beginning of time.

I dare you to try this same exercise; you'll never be the same.  Here's a music video of one of the songs in particular that God has been revealing Himself to me through - thank you George!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Who Directs Your Steps?

So on Tuesday I posted about traces of grace and finished it off by quoting Psalm 37:23 - The Lord directs the steps of the godly; He delights in every detail of their lives. That blog was primarily focused on Him delighting in our details; this one will focus on Him directing our steps, based on an event that happened yesterday.

My friend, Kate, and I had made lunch plans and agreed to meet at a restaurant near my work place (incidentally in a very nice part of town). What was meant to be a brief lunch so we could both get back to work, turned into an hour and twenty minutes. As we departed, we gave each other a hug and both held on longer than usual. I remember thinking that was odd, but those seconds may have been vital, as you will read in a moment. Kate headed out the door as I went and refilled my drink and visited the restroom. I left the restaurant and drove to the left back to my workplace; as I did, I saw ambulances and fire trucks whizzing by me. I didn't know what had happened until Kate sent me a text about an hour later.

She told how she turned right out of the restaurant and went through the other side of the parking lot on her way back to work. As she drove, she saw a commotion around a small red car and a man stumble out covered in blood. Being trained in CPR, she stopped to help. Upon reaching him, she realized he had been shot and stabbed multiple times. She assisted until the ambulance arrived to take him to the hospital.

After the adrenaline went down and the processing began, Kate told how during lunch she kept looking at the clock behind me thinking she needed to leave and go back to work...but yet she stayed. And then there was the lingering hug that felt odd. She strongly believes that God was protecting her from being right in the middle of that violent situation (ended up being reported as a robbery of a jeweler by two masked men) which had transpired only moments before she drove by.

We both knew with our head knowledge of the Bible that God directs our steps, but now we know experientially that He does. To add one other element, I firmly believe that not only was God protecting us, but He was also arranging for His agent to be involved in this situation. Here is yet another reason to allow God to direct our steps - to be fully available to His service in bringing light and love to this dark world. I told Kate to take it as quite a compliment that He entrusted that to her yesterday. While I am also trained in CPR, I don't know that I would have been able to handle it with such grace as she did.

To wrap it up: Do we live in a treacherous world? You betcha. Is it bound to get more treacherous? You betcha. Do I know who directs our steps and keeps us from harm? You betcha. So TRUST that wherever you go today, He directed your steps there and that there is grace to cover whatever you may encounter!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Traces of Grace

How many times in the busy pace of your life do you stop and notice small hints of His grace sprinkled throughout your day?  If you're moving too fast, it's hard to notice.  But if you determine to be aware and watching for these small love notes from Him, the Holy Spirit will highlight them to you...guaranteed...and you will watch in amazement as to how often and when they appear!

Brief grocery store story from yours truly: I had taken the boys with me to the grocery store on a busy Monday after we had been at home with air conditioning repair, working on refinancing our mortgage, rescheduling some dental work for me, and arranging my husband's surgery details (torn achilles repair, altogether another story!).  Needless to say, mommy was already fried when we got there and just needed to get a little food for our very bare refrigerator.  To make matters worse, it was one of those days at the grocery store when there are so many people in the aisles, you have to steer around them and take turns to move! 

As I am cruising and referring back to my list (not to mention letting my children eat their way through the store - you know a donut here, a cheese stick there, etc.), I realize a few items that I have forgotten.  Almost on cue, I look up to find the exact item I would have purchased stranded in another section altogether (for example, pistachios in a facing of tortillas).  The first time it happened, I thought, "Oh, okay that's good - I don't have to circle back through the crowded store." But the second time?  I knew it was traces of His grace.  And while a small thing in our busy life - still very indicative of our compassionate God, who cares about even the little details of our lives. 

For one last flourish in the icing on the cake/lesson - as I was outside loading the groceries in the car and kids in the car seats, I notice we have lost one pair of Spider-Man sunglasses.  Why the big deal?  Only because we have two pairs, and if you know anything about close siblings...only having one would cause big issues in the future.  Which means, in short, for me, I would be throwing out the other pair if we couldn't find the ones we had lost.  Now it's 200 degrees (okay 100), and I have $200 worth of groceries already in the car...unloading children and heading back inside seemed like the least appealing thing in the world.  So I look over and see some teenage employees pushing carts and asked them nicely if they wouldn't mind looking at the check-stand we had been at a few minutes earlier - a long shot but worth it in this mom's opinion.  They agreed and began walking back; they returned just a few minutes later, having found them on the ground on their way back into the store!

Once again, if you're not looking, these things may seem like coincidences or "thank goodness" moments; but if you're tuned in - they can come to mean so much more than that and keep you moving (with a smile on your face) on this sometimes tiring road we call life!  HE IS GOOD :).

Psalm 37:23 - The Lord directs the steps of the godly.  He delights in every detail of their lives.

II Corinthians 12:9 - But He said to me, My grace (My favor and loving-kindness and mercy) is enough for you [sufficient against any danger and enables you to bear the trouble manfully]; for My strength and power are made perfect (fulfilled and completed) and show themselves most effective in [your] weakness.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Intimacy Can Be Your Reality

If you had been reading my journal lately, you'd know that God has been revealing a lot to me about Himself and our relationship through different songs, some Christian and some not.  Many of the songs have been about unconditional love, happiness, joy, etc. 

However, today's quiet time was just fun and silly...I was listening to an amazing song by Mark Harris called, "When We're Together."  If you've heard this song, you know that it has a light-hearted and fun mood and amazing lyrics (see below).  It was as if God was saying, "Come and hang out with me, enjoy yourself, dance, be who I created you to be!"  Now isn't that a definition of true intimacy...when you can be your goofy self without a care in the world that the person will start to think differently about you?

If this sounds like a stretch to you in terms of a relationship with God, I invite you - and HE invites you - to come into His presence, take a load off, rest, and just maybe have some fun!  It's worth a try, don't you think?  :) 

And thank you to Mark Harris for the inspiration for tonight's post. 

Much Love To You All!!!

I'd like to sail to lands afar
Out on a boat that's built for two
Beneath a canopy of stars
That would be just like a dream come true
Just to be with you

And oh, oh, oh, ohhh
When we're together
Oh, oh, oh, ohhh
Feels like forever
Worries seem to fade away
As they become as distant memories
When we're together

I'd like a castle on a hill
Where you and I could spend the day
And I'd love to go where time stands still
And all that doesn't matter fades away
You are here with me

And oh, oh, oh, ohhh
When we're together
Oh, oh, oh, ohhh
Feels like forever
Worries seem to fade away
As they become as distant memories
When we're together

And I'd love toDance with you
Under the big blue sky
We'd hold theWonder of the moment
As the moment passes by
When we're together

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Honor & Life Messages

Lately the Lord has been speaking to me about "life messages." By this, I believe He means the individual purpose and significance He has birthed in each of us that we are assigned to carry into our world. We are all created so differently, and for good reason, He loves variety - just look at the animal and plant kingdoms! As there are so many lifestyles, cultures, and temperaments - God cannot have ministry that is one size fits all. When you look around at the vast expanse of Christian programs and literature, it can be a bit dizzying and can even push some people towards cynicism and further to criticism - particularly if a ministry's style does not suit you, your tastes, or your current spiritual maturity level. Can I encourage you to not buy into that and continue reading with an open heart? I had such a strong desire to put this blog together, because I know this is a common ploy of the destroy the unity of the body of Christ and fragment us over sometimes serious but often inane differences.

The principle of honor (respect, esteem, value) is such an important one in every arena, but sadly there are still some folks out there who haven't quite let God refine this characteristic in them. I know, because I have been one of them! To be honest, I have been successful at doing this on a high level, meaning with large and visible ministries, and seeing the good they are doing in the name of Jesus, even if it isn't ministering strongly to me. God has led us to sow financially into various ministries like this and bless them to continue on in their work; this is going beyond simply acknowledging their mission but is supporting and esteeming their mission to the point where it affects your that is honor.

All of that being said, I had been having a more difficult time with honor in more personal and close to home relationships. Struggling to put the pieces together and love, respect, and honor others - especially when they have not been honoring you - can be quite difficult. I have been seeking God over this matter for months, and it is crystal clear that love and honor are very high on His priority list for me right now!

As I prayed and sought Him about it, He spoke to my spirit in such clear terms (and might I add, not angrily or condescendingly, but calmly and in an encouraging way) about the concept of every individual and their life message. Just as corporations have mission statements and core values, God has created each of us so uniquely, with backgrounds, experience, education, and interests that all fit together to create the exact life message He destined for us; that life message is vital to a lost and dying world, and He wants all of us to find it and come into our own in terms of purpose with passion.

When you think about #1 His brilliance and #2 His plan, it boggles the mind for little old me to begin criticizing whomever for what I think they are not doing correctly. My responsibility is to honor them and the life message that, most of the time, I can see so clearly written all over them. While doing this, it is also extremely important that I be pursuing my life message with singleness of vision, regardless of what others may be thinking, saying, or doing about me. I do wonder sometimes how many life messages have been abandoned or even crushed as a result of others' jealousy, mistreatment, or plain misunderstanding.

Can I challenge and encourage you on both of these fronts, to be the type of person that honors others, regardless of whether you understand them, and continues to relentlessly pursue your own life message, even if it's sometimes alone? The King has need of you; answer His call and don't let the enemy have one more inch (make that centimeter!) of ground in this area :).

I Samuel 2:7-9
The Lord makes some poor and others rich; he brings some down and lifts others up.
He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump.
He sets them among princes, placing them in seats of honor.
For all the earth is the Lord’s, and he has set the world in order.
He will protect his faithful ones,
but the wicked will disappear in darkness.
No one will succeed by strength alone.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Becoming All-Out Givers

My husband, Austen, and I have been on an interesting journey over the course of our 8 year marriage. When we were first married, we were still a part of church, but we will both tell you that God was not the main priority of either of our lives. As we began to get hit with the trials the world can bring you as an adult, we began making an effort to put God front and center, and for us this included becoming more consistent in our financial giving.

However, it wasn't until we heard a message by Ed Young (at Fellowship Church in Dallas) about being a steward rather than an owner, that we became faithful tithers. His message was that we don't truly own anything, but that everything has been given by God, and we are merely stewards (some synonyms: custodian, manager, administrator, representative). That word really sunk in with both of us at the same time, which is so providential of our awesome God, that we as a newly married couple were unified in this decision! It was a big chunk of money to begin sowing, but the knowledge that we were privileged to bring this 10% back to God to support His local church, was enough to keep us going.

We continued as regular tithers for a few years and picked up monthly support of a few additional ministries along the way, as well as participating in occasional church-sponsored community outreaches. Most in the religious community would call these our additional offerings, above and beyond the tithe. We stayed at this level in our giving until my sister gave me a book by Robert Morris called, The Blessed Life.

In this book, Pastor Morris talks about the three levels of giving: tithe, offerings, and extravagant offerings. He said that most people who get to the first level of tithing will proceed to the next level of offering, but that very few would cross over into extravagant offerings. He joked that a friend of his actually called them tithes, offerings, and painful offerings! Why is this important you may ask? "If I'm giving my tithe, or even making an effort at giving my tithe, then I have done my duty and don't need to do anymore." The problem with this is then you aren't quite following the gist of God's purposes for us as believers in this world. We are not to be reservoirs of His Goodness, financially or otherwise; but rather, conduits or funnels, getting our resources to the places He directs. What's more...reaching the level of extravagant offerings is where things get a little risky, and dare I say it, fun!

After coming across this book, we were highly motivated to give anywhere and everywhere God directed. We have crossed over into the extravagant level a few times (cars, furniture, etc.), and it can be a bit nauseating but always exhilarating, as you trust that God will provide for your needs instead of your well laid-out Dave Ramsey plan. Now I'm not advocating that we abandon Dave Ramsey's principles; they are extremely helpful and appropriate for people who are out of control to get back into a balanced financial state. But beyond that, I believe, they limit the church. We need to become believers who listen to the Holy Spirit and give as He directs, not as our plans direct us.

Austen and I have ratcheted up our giving in many areas, to the point where Turbotax regularly tells us we have audit risk because our charitable giving is so high in proportion to our income; but we have never seen our needs gone unmet. We have continued to see increase, sometimes extravagantly and sometimes just in the nick of time. This is not meant to be a brag-session on us, merely a tale of the journey it has taken for us formerly marginal givers to become all-out givers. The purpose for the journey is that we show ourselves trustworthy to God, that money not have a hold on us, that He might put more resources into our hands to be funneled into the Kingdom. Can you imagine what the church, and by extension, the world would look like if more believers operated this way??

Luke 6:38 - Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

The River

A current theme in my life has been that of a river, but not just any river, "the" river of the Holy Spirit - our comforter and teacher. There is a song out by Bethel Church called Deep Cries Out that expresses it this way: "If it goes to the left, then we go to the left! If it goes to the right, then we go to the right!"

In a world full of so much uncertainty, isn't it comforting to think there is a source of all stability and wisdom constantly flowing with new provision that flows directly from the throne of Almighty God? See the following passage from Ezekiel which is mirrored in Revelation 22.

Ezekiel 47:1-5 - The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar.
He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side. As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross.

Revelation 22:1-5 - Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

Our task is to stay in tune with the Holy Spirit and where He is going. Just as in the natural - a river already has its path laid out, already knows its pace and current, and only takes people downstream that are willing to go with its flow. Let's be people in tune with what the Father is doing and follow the river wherever it goes, rather than sticking to some formula or pattern of the way things have always been. He is an ever-changing and ever-advancing God, and I want to be a part of His purposes in the earth!

When we cooperate and follow the Holy Spirit within us, then the river will flow from us as well, producing fruit that will be nourishment to many. I'll finish with a quote from Jesus, who of course, provided our access to the river:

John 7:38 - "Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”