Thursday, September 8, 2011

Patience is a Virtue (That I Don't Have)

I'll go ahead and warn you, I'm in a mood.

I read a quote by Peter Marshall this week that said, "Teach us, O Lord, the disciplines of patience, for to wait is often harder than to work." That could sum me up, hopefully not all of the time, but if I'm being honest, most of it.

Today, I am not in need. I am living a life I am content with. I'm so, so blessed, but it doesn't feel like enough. And it aggravates me when I feel that way. But the more I live, the more I'm learning to recognize we will make plenty of mistakes, but what really matters is how we react to them. What am I going to do when I want more? Am I going to try to fill that void with material things or with people or with the strive to be successful? Having those feelings is normal, but am I going to use it to turn to God or do something I'll regret or that's not the best?

I did a Bible study earlier this summer on Jonah and in it I read the story of Jehoshaphat. I always remember the name; the story, not so much. In 2 Chronicles 20, Jehoshaphat, Judah, and Jerusalem are vastly outnumbered in a battle they can't win in their human strength. God speaks, saying, "Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, Judah and Jerusalem." (v. 15 & 17). So that day, they sang to the Lord, and He brought their enemies against each other, keeping His promise that they would not fight the battle.

 This story encourages me when there is some sort of vision or thing that I desire, that I believe He wants for me also, just not yet, and not for me to get for myself. My job is obedience in each day and to praise Him. I have no control over His plans, I have no responsibility in making everything fit together, and frankly, I would be quite terrible at it.

So when I want more, I'm learning to turn to God when I'm unsatisfied. To praise Him and obey Him, while He works out the plan. Maybe that way it won't feel like waiting, but if it does, that's OK.

It aches for the coming—it can hardly wait!
   And it doesn't lie.
If it seems slow in coming, wait.
   It's on its way. It will come right on time.
 Habakkuk 2:3

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I Feel the Need. The Need for Caffeine.

“For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” Romans 8:24-26

I have a problem. Well, I have many problems, but I’m going to focus on one today. You see, I could be known as a coffee addict, coffee fiend, coffee dependent. I prefer coffee lover, but whatever. My day does not officially begin until I have caffeine in my veins. Heaven, to me, would include unlimited access to free Starbucks. Usually I have two cups in the morning. I know it’s excessive, but one is not enough and I’ll tell you why.

One morning, I had time for only one cup at home before church, so when I arrived, you know what I made a beeline for. I approached this bar with donuts, cups, different types of sugars, orange juice, and coffee. This was my first time to utilize such a set-up and I wasn’t sure where to start. It’s still not crystal clear why I stood there dumbfounded. I was still in a foggy state from only receiving half of my caffeine dose. I stood there with questions running through my mind: Are those the cups for coffee? Why don’t they look like the ones people are drinking coffee out of? Are they the orange juice cups? Should I go for it anyway? Will that be enough? Could I get two or three of those little cups? Does anyone else think this much about acquiring coffee? But nevertheless, I stood there frozen with inactivity on the outside while things were a-buzzing in my brain, until some man took mercy on me and asked if I wanted coffee and then pointed at the cups that had been sitting there all along. If I had been more conscious I would have said, “I definitely need the coffee if I can’t figure out how to get it on my own.” But I just smiled and said, “Thanks.”

I feel this way some times when I want to pray or spent time with God. I don’t know what to do. I sit there, waiting, thinking about my options. It’s not until I get out a journal or piece of paper and start writing, usually, “I don’t know what to pray,” that stuff just flows out of me. Things I didn’t even know I needed to pray about.

I think we even may be better off that way to be like blank slates. In Romans, it says the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we don’t know what to pray. And I have to say, the Holy Spirit is a higher authority in knowing what to pray than I am. And how great is it that all we need is attendance and a willing heart, and it is used? I'm so thankful God works in us even when we're standing before His throne unsure of what to do next.

So next time you try to pray and don’t know what to say, depend on Him to tell You. Just be present and willing. And the next time you begin to pray and know what You want to pray for, seek what He may want You to pray about.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Arms vs Feet

“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it…It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:7, 11-13

Can I just say isn’t it amazing how intricately God works everything out? He builds on what He’s taught and reveals new stuff when we’re ready for it. I’m just amazed at how detail oriented everything is when there is so much creation with so much detail!

I didn’t even expect Ephesians 4 to go along with what I’d been learning, but when I checked back on it, there was so much to it that builds on and enhances the message of His love and loving others.

First, just to go along with the last post, Christ apportioned grace to each of us (Ephesians 4:7). He is the one who decides what and how much, and He is fair. He knows what each of us needs. Sometimes I can get upset about what someone else has been assigned to do. That’s dumb. They don’t have control over what Christ apportioned for them. So again, if you have issue with what someone else has or does, and naturally, we do from time to time, go to Him about it. Confess it. Find out how you fit into “the body”, seek Him to see what He has apportioned for you. And then move forward, knowing He knows each of us, knows what we can become through His grace, and be obedient in the task He’s given you right now. He’s pursued you, loves you, and longs to give you so much more than what you can find on your own.

Look to Him the “head” of the body for instruction. Thank goodness when my brain tells my arms what to do, they can go about their business because the foot is not upset it wasn’t appointed to be the arm and is now doing its best to interfere with the arms’ work. The foot knows I need it to be a foot. That it has important purpose even though it’s literally a lowly position. Because in the end, the knee, the arm, the foot, nor the stomach is the star. It’s about the body as a whole. And when I am absorbed in figuring out what everyone else’s parts and purposes are and either feeling like I’m not as important as them or they are not as important as me, I am keeping the body from doing what the head, Christ, has intended.

Each part is important, and each part is enabled with a purpose. I’m so glad God has shown me this lesson that my job is to follow what He has for me. From both sides of the spectrum, if I feel like I’m too important to do it or that I’m not equipped enough to do it, I am hindering His work. He apportioned it. He knows and sees the whole picture. So I need to trust Him and obey, because I definitely don’t want to be a hindrance to His body’s work.

I want to see and be amazed at His plans and how He’s worked everything out and used each of us for a glorious purpose. I want to celebrate with my fellow “body parts” because He values and equips each of us to work together when we are nothing on our own. How marvelous. How wonderful.

“From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Ephesians 4:15

Monday, August 15, 2011

Petty, Pouty Punk

So what I want to talk about today is how God has merged His love for us and loving others into one piece that is greater than the sum of the two parts. The two go hand and hand to mean more than they do on their own. God’s love for us is astounding on its own, but when it’s coupled with loving others it is even more vivid to us. “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12). And coming right back around, we cannot love as we ought without His love.

Just this year, God has revealed the antidote of what has plagued me for years when it comes to loving others. You may be like me (hopefully not), but I can get jealous. It can be over someone’s singing or musical ability. It can be some position they have. It can be over them catching someone’s eye. It can be over your sister winning Pretty, Pretty Princess and you turning into Petty, Pouty Punk. I’m not proud of this.

When I feel jealous, it’s usually because I’m insecure or discontent with what I have. Learning about God’s intimate, detailed love helps take that away. God knows what we need and makes a way to provide for it before we are even aware. And when I’m looking around at what everyone else has, I’ve taken my eyes off the source of life. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). What is so ridiculous is I get jealous about what I don’t have and eventually hear that voice say to me, “Did you even ask me for this?”

It took me realizing God loves and cares for me, cares about the stupid things as well as the big things. He sees me and has a plan and will provide for me. He sees you too and will meet your needs and satisfy you more than money, positions, and popularity ever could.

So let’s stop making it about other people and how much they have and how little we have and instead, go to our Heavenly Father who gives good gifts when we are ready for them. I don’t blame Him at all for not giving me talents or positions when I’m acting like a brat. Let’s recognize He is all we need and humbly lay our requests at His feet.

Then we can rejoice with each other over how gracious God is that He would give to us and use us for His perfect purposes.

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:11-13

Saturday, August 13, 2011

But I Don't Feel Like It...

How many times have you heard or said, “But I don’t feel like it!” I don’t think I can even count and I really hope there’s not an ongoing tally somewhere. We will never always feel like loving others. I’m sure it will be difficult. Even people pleasers can be annoying sometimes, but God is greater than our hearts (1 John 3:20).

This year, God has shown me a lot about loving those around me and given me practice to boot! (Did I ask for patience and compassion or something?) Through 1 John 3, wisdom from friends, and most importantly, the help of the Holy Spirit, some basic insights to love those that are hard to love have been realized.

First of all, pray for it. It’s God’s will for us to live in peace and unity. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us which is, lay[ing] down our lives for our brothers (1 John 3:23, 16). And we know that if we pray in His will, He will answer it. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us*, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him (1 John 3:21-22). We can also pray for the person and pray for ourselves. If you need to complain about that person, go to God. He already knows what’s in your heart and it would be better for it to go to Him than someone else. But once you get it out, pray blessings on the person. Pray that God would reveal Himself and His will to you both and to draw closer to Him.

Second, you have to believe it’s possible. When you’re setting out to achieve some kind of goal, a work-out, a job, school, getting along with someone, do you notice a difference in the outcome if you truly believe it can be achieved and when you don’t think it’s possible? I definitely do. I’ll use it as an out when things are getting difficult. Well, it never could have happened anyway. With God, all things are possible (Luke 1:37). He created this planet, planets we’ve never seen, and the universe. Creating peace between you and someone else isn’t too big of a task for Him. But it’s never going to happen if you don’t believe that. We have to believe He can bring peace to any situation, that even when it seems impossible, it’s not too hard for Him.

Third, fake it till you make it. My heart does not change with space or distance from a situation. Sure you need time to clear your head and work it out with God, but I’m not going to learn how to love somebody if I stay away from them. For me, I have to actively love if I’m going to get over my feelings. Pray for them, send them an encouraging note, instead of avoiding them, approach them and show interest in what’s going on in their lives. I’m not promoting false sincerity. But like it said earlier, we are commanded to love and He is bigger than our hearts, so we obviously won’t feel like loving everyone all the time, but you just have to love anyway and believe it’ll get better.

Fourth, focus on the future, not the past. All of the points have been directed at myself, but this one is the biggest. I have a good memory. I remember details, conversations, and events. This good memory has also made it easy for me to remember wrongs done to me and I have been a bit of a grudge holder. OK, not just a bit. When I was 8, I was at a family vacation and at night all of the cousins went out to catch frogs. This did not interest me, so I hung out by myself and a few of my extended family members encouraged me to go out and hunt some frogs and I refused. So years later before family gatherings, in true teenager fashion, I would complain to my mom they all think I’m an outsider and they’ve always thought that. (Dramatic much?) And she would just say, you need to let that go. Let. It. Go. It’s so embarrassing, and I’m sharing it to say, look how ridiculous it is. It’s not even a big deal and I used it for years. I don’t want a memory of not wanting to frog hunt to keep me from loving and having fun with my family. Does it even compare? So as Paul says, “[Forget] what is behind and [strain] toward what is ahead” (Philippians 3:13). Let yesterday go and focus on today. What can be done to move forward and not look back?

He wouldn’t command us to love one another if we couldn’t do it. With every command is a promise that we have the ability when we are filled by the Spirit and longing to obey. God doesn’t set us up for failure. Yes, in our flesh, we stumble and fall and sometimes just crawl or barely roll into obedience, but if that’s what He wants from us and what we want for ourselves, He will enable us to do it.

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

*I looked at some commentary for when the phrase “our hearts condemn us”. The meaning of the phrase is when we have the feeling of a guilty conscience. So this situation would be when we’ve done something, confessed it, and still feel guilty. When our hearts stop condemning us is when we believe that whatever we did is forgiven and washed away by the blood of Jesus because “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
Commentary Source

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What Does It Mean?

Reading and studying Ephesians 3 has been huge for me because honestly, I have trouble believing God really loves me. Like is in-love-with-me-adores-me loves me. That type. At best I think He tolerates me. Just to really show how crazy I am, I get suspicious when He’s good to me. Like there’s this balance He uses that has to be at equilibrium, so if there’s something that just went into the blessings side, trouble is coming. Why would He love us? As a human, I don’t think there’s an answer. That’s why we just have to have faith that what is said in His word is true. So instead of trying to figure out why He would and if it’s really true, let’s pursue this love that is higher, wider, deeper, truer than we’ve ever known.

After spending time in Ephesians, I felt directed to 1 John 3:16-24.

            This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone had material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
          Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

I love talking and thinking about God’s love for us, but it’s worth so much more when it turns into us loving each other. And when we’re close to Him, it should be the result and fruit of His presence and work in us.  In the next chapter, John says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12).

So I’ve said before, I want to see how knowing God’s love for me changes my life, and this has been one of the immediate ways. I see loving my brothers and sisters in a different light and have been learning about it through passages in 1 John that I’ll share in the days to come.

Thank you for reading. The desire to blog on this came from being so thankful and amazed at the things God was showing me, I just wanted to share and I do a lot of talking :-). If you ever feel like discussing what's posted or other topics, please feel free to email or comment. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, July 22, 2011

My Brain Just Exploded

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

I don’t even know how to express how amazed I am over verse 20. The God of the Universe, Lord over nations, peoples, waters, land, animals, sees and knows every detail of your life. He knows your dreams, your desires, your fears, your secret wishes, and every place you’ve been. Now think of the wildest thing, your biggest hope or wish, and move past it. It’s not possible for our minds, but it’s possible for Him. And He doesn’t just go a little past what we dream of, he goes “immeasurably.” To infinity and beyond. My brain has not the capacity to think of it, but God does and it’s not even hard for Him. Incredible is not a challenge for God. It’s the same as us opening our eyes when we wake up on a weekend morning after sleeping in. Effortlessly. Are you fired up? He is able to do that for you and for me.

Now to the entrĂ©e. He does more than we can imagine “according to his power that is at work within us.” As someone who grew up in church from a young age, I had an early case of legalism. I wanted to be good enough for God. I was very focused on works and making myself look good and sort of forgetting that I actually needed to be saved and I couldn’t do it myself.

Now, if you noticed the earlier entries, which did we encounter first? Grasp God’s love or compel God to love you because of all your beautiful, lovely, good works? The latter doesn’t even show up. Who is it that does the work in us? Us? No. It’s God. Praise the Lord, it is God’s power at work in us. God loves my sorry self just as I am. I don’t have to earn His love. He wants me to be dropped right in the middle of it, to fill me with Himself, and then to work in me to create more than I can ask or imagine. Is that not the most unbelievable, gracious, compassionate thing ever? I have nothing to say but, “who am I that You would be so good to me?” And the answer, my friends, has nothing to do with who I am. It is all about who God is. He loves and gives what we do not deserve. And He brings glory to Himself because of it.

And may all glory belong to such a wonderful, majestic God for all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

An Order of Love. Hold the Fear, Please.

For so long, all my life practically, I have not loved. You know, the 1 Corinthians 13 way that puts others above myself with love that is patient, kind, and never failing. The reason I love is to receive something in return. I love as an exchange. I love out of insecurity and fear. And it is a poor substitute for loving the way God’s love intends. When I receive a favorable response, I am relieved. When I don’t, I am crushed and devastated. And that is in no way, shape, or form how God planned it to be. That is not genuine love.

I want to love unselfishly. I want to love standing on the grand, unfathomable love of my God being able to give completely and freely, knowing whatever I have given He will replenish. That I don’t need a return from others because His love is enough. “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10. Reading a verse like that makes me think, who am I to try to protect myself when God Himself will restore me?

On the way to a movie, a friend and I were talking about how we feel so much happier when we are content with ourselves and our actions. This evolved into resolving to do good for others without fear of their reactions. Sometimes we feel vulnerable doing something that shows love because we’re afraid of how the other person will react. What if they don’t like me/love me as much as I do and now they’ll know by this action? What if they freak out because I’m showing more regard than they’re ready for? What if they think I’m weird?

But a light bulb turned on and I said, “Why should we be the ones that feel bad when we do something that is good and kind for someone else?” Are you really the one with the problem when you’ve decided to do something kind and generous for someone? Who cares about seeming forward? Shouldn’t we just love? It feels so much better knowing you’re doing what you’re supposed to instead of worrying about how someone will react.

You can always spot that kind of person immediately. I love meeting someone and getting the sense that they are truly interested in me and care about me. I’m drawn to it. I want to be like that. I want to build up and encourage those around me. I want to be gracious and compassionate. I want to be the hands and feet of Christ. So often I put my needs first, but I’m praying day by day I will be crucified with Christ so that it’s not me living, but Christ in me (Galatians 2:20).

Questions: You know what I mean? Have you ever felt that way too?

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Post that Should Have Been Titled "Love That Surpasses Knowledge"

“and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:19

I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS PART!!!!!! For reals, caps lock does not do it justice. The words should be bounding out of your computer screen right now.

“Know this love that surpasses knowledge.” Every time we know His love, we are experiencing something supernatural. His love can’t be known because it surpasses knowledge, but we know it because of the Holy Spirit. Because God enables us to know this love that is wider, higher, deeper than we can imagine.
And then, “filled to the measure” aka full capacity with the fullness of God. Not the partness of God, not the halfness of God, or the sure-you-can-have-some-of-my-attention-while-I-keep-the-universe-in-place-ness of God. It is the fullness. And even more incredible is the fullness can be in us, filled to the measure.

What makes me even more insane with amazement is what being filled with the fullness of God means. When we are completely full of Jesus, we can love genuinely, give graciously, live obediently, and have every need met. How I want to know an absence of fear because I am filled with the fullness of God. How I want to love others just because. No strings attached.

The fullness of God in me means being able to love and give without needing anything in return. Having the power to walk in obedience, knowing He will provide. Having confidence to do more than I can on my own. To go forth and do what’s asked without thinking about how I look or how I’ll be treated. Knowing God in every corner of myself. There’s more of God in me than myself. Seeing what I would normally be blinded to. Being completely satisfied in Him.  Having the ability to bring forth who I am intended to be with no insecurities, no fears, no doubts. I would not be afraid of failing. I would not be afraid of being judged. I would not be afraid my next step wouldn’t be there. It would be living fully. Having the fullness of God—Having the creator, His whole complete self in you. You would never walk alone because He resides in you. I would not be relying on my self, strength, and abilities, I would be relying on Him. What this does for my future is amazing to me. A future relying on something other than my weakness is so much brighter and exciting. It is more than I can ask or imagine like the next verse says. To be a part of something broader and bigger than myself, His love that stretches farther than the universe. It gives me hope. Living in my strength makes me tired just thinking about it, but living in His gives me hope.

A song lyric that helps me articulate what I think about this is from Jill Phillips, “I will not have to fear anymore. All I’ll be capable of is: Holy, holy, holy, holy.” I want to have a single-minded focus to praise the name of the Lord. To live a life that glorifies Him in all I do. When that is all that matters, what have I to fear but not living up to that? And I am equipped to do that when I am filled to the measure with the fullness of God.