Thursday, May 30, 2013

Middle-Ground Moderation

The idea for this blog post came from a discussion on women and the church with my daughter, Allie.  She had been reading some interesting Christian articles on, "gender roles in the church," by various present-day writers and theologians, and we hashed-out a great many things from those articles.  It was a good discussion.  The one thing that kept resonating to me throughout our talk was the idea of, "moderation."  I believe we have to use a great deal of moderation when discussing the Bible and seeking meaning from it.  We must keep ourselves firmly grounded in the center of God's complete Word, and therefore, in the middle of His will for our lives.  I believe when we waiver to any extreme in our interpretation of God's Word, that is when we falter in our understanding, beliefs, and thus, our actions with regard to God and His desires for us.

It is commonly known that a person can take a verse from the Bible and spin it to state whatever they want.  If you've got an issue, you can find a Scripture to defend or refute it.  This is even more true when taking a verse out of context and reading it as a, "stand-alone" verse.   I could pull out Proverbs 20:1, which states, "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise," and use it for a strong defense that Godly people (or people, in general) should not drink.  But then a few chapters later, I could whip out Proverbs 31:6, "Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts," and give a totally opposing and reasonable defense that at times, drinking is not only appropriate and allowed by God, but encouraged and useful!  It can become confusing and difficult to balance and moderate all the seemingly paradoxical Scriptures in God's Word.  But God is not a God of contradiction.  He meant for His Word to be read in its entirety and interpreted literally as a whole unit.  I would hate for anyone to pull one sentence from one of my lame blog posts and make an out-of-context issue out of it (it would be even less intelligent than it is now, hard as that may be to believe)!  But you get the idea.

Last night on Facebook, the idea for this blog post was solidified.  Now...I am on Facebook about as little as anyone.  Let's just say I'm not a fan.  But I received a notification for one of my bands and by chance, saw a post on my news feed by a dear friend that dealt with this very topic.  He posted a link to a dispute between two current-day Christian authors and speakers, Rachel Held Evans and John Piper--two of the Christian theologians whose articles Allie and I had discussed weeks ago when we talked.  The dispute had to do with the idea of, "deserved tragedy."  Apparently, John Piper believes that the recent tornado in OK was God's way of judging us for our sins--that we deserved it, and we actually deserve much worse.  Rachel Held Evans believes that because we live in a fallen world, we have suffering and hardship--and it doesn't need much more explanation than that.  She believes that using such fundamental theology, as to say that suffering people "deserve" their hardship, is harmful to those who are hurting and that if God is love, as His Word states, we shouldn't view Him as merely wrathful and ready to angrily hurl us into misery for our sins.   Instead, we should view Him as a merciful God Who does not like to see suffering any more than we do, and Who grieves along with us at this fallen world. 

Fact of the matter is, I believe they are both right in their core beliefs.  Sadly and ironically, this is typically how arguments in the church occur--two people who are both right decide to argue a point that doesn't even need to be argued!  It comes down to moderation and looking at the entire Word of God.  Yes, God IS love (1 John 4:8), and yes, He is full of mercy (Eph. 2:4, John 3:17).  But He is also a jealous God who, at times, is angered (Deut. 6:15), and Who chastises those He loves (Hebrews 12:6).  His Word says both.  Do I believe John Piper should go around telling people they are being punished?  Heavens no--and if that is what his intentions are, then he is sinning in so doing.  It isn't his job to play the Holy Spirit in any one's life, and according to God's Word, he is supposed to be more concerned about his own imperfections than those of others, as we are told by Christ in Matthew 7:5 ("You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Matt. 7:5).   The way I see it, the "removal of planks" from one's own eyes is a never-ending process, otherwise we would arrive at perfection and finally be worthy of pointing out others' planks!  We are only called to rebuke others when there is a clearly defined, outward sin being presented that is harmful to the body of Christ or that could lead others away from the Gospel--and there are pretty specific details as to how that is supposed to "go down," if you will, in Timothy, as well as in several other passages of Scripture.  There are clearly laid-out plans for who is in line to give the rebuke and under what terms.  But that is another blog post.  As for matters of the heart, personal imperfections, and inward sins, we have no business judging and "rebuking" others, or claiming they "deserve" what came to them.  God's Word says in 1 Cor. 2:11, "For who knows a person's thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God."  Furthermore in Romans 2:1, it is stated, "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things." Therefore, stating that someone "deserved" the hardship they have been handed is a pretty bold and prideful move.  In Proverbs 16:18, it is stated, "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall."  We should never look down on other believers (or nonbelievers, for that matter) thinking they are beneath us or deserving of God's wrath.  God's Word says we ALL deserve His wrath (Eph. 2:3), that we ALL sin--even after coming to a belief in Christ (Ro. 3:10), and that we are ALL invited to partake of His love and His free gift of eternal salvation (John 3:16).  

This idea of moderation and keeping ourselves "in the middle" of God's Word and will for our lives filters over to everything really.  If you eat too little, you become unhealthy and can cause severe complications to your organs due to lack of nutrition.  But if you eat too much, the same occurs.  We are called to be generous with our money in God's Word (2 Cor. 9:7).  But we are also supposed to prepare for the future--to store up (or save) and be good stewards of what God has given to us (Prov. 6:6).  It's a balance and it requires constant monitoring and God's help to manage it all properly.  We never get it down perfectly, and even if we have moments where we come close, it doesn't take long before something slips and is out of whack again.  Personally speaking, I feel like when I am doing well with my personal health, I notice my housework falls behind.  If I spend a great deal of time keeping up the house, then perhaps I'm not in my Bible as much as I should be.  When I spend an immense amount of time with God, I find that I tend to ignore my friendships and family.  It is always something.  I feel like I can never get it all right.  There's always some nagging area where I feel my Father telling me, "Okay, how 'bout over here, Steph. We need some attention over here."  Tweaking our lives for good stewardship in all these things is a daily deal--and we'll never get it perfectly right. With God's help, we can only try.

Moderation also rings true in our interactions and reactions with others.  We shouldn't become overly concerned with what others are doing or comparing ourselves or our lives to theirs.  We need to keep ourselves in the middle of our own pasture, so to speak.  I love the quote, "If you think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, you're standing too close to the fence," (quote given to by my son in-law, Kale--thanks son)!   Anytime we're jealous, comparative, critical, or desirous of another's life, we need to get ourselves back to our own pasture and spend some time watering it.  This would follow suit in the theological debate aforementioned--if we're seriously calling others out on their "sins" and wishing or declaring God's destruction on them, we are spending too much time worrying about others and not nearly enough time working on perfecting ourselves in our own walk with God.  For every finger I point at others, there are three pointing back at me (and boy, do I deserve them)!  I know that when I awake with a heart full of love for God, and a mind desiring to praise and please Him, I do not have a time for comparison, criticism, or a haughty spirit.  There is just no place or room for it.  You can't immerse yourself in God's presence and be very concerned with the flaws of others.  He makes your own pretty apparent, and His great love wraps you up in joy and delight in Him and in those He has also created in His image.

Entire cults have been born out of pulling one verse or passage out of God's Word and making it a major issue.  2 Timothy 2:14 states, "Keep reminding God's people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen."  If you want to end or ruin a friendship, destroy unity in the body of Christ, or defeat another believer faster than anything, argue senselessly and needlessly with them about some minor issue in God's Word.  There are things that are worth fighting about and things that just aren't.  Clearly, we are called to love each other.  You will find way more Scriptures supporting that notion than you will ever find on rebuking and judging.  God must have known what we'd need to hear more often.  Even in Kindergarten we are constantly told to stop "tattle-telling."  Pointing fingers at others is an innate, sinful trait that we all have.  It started in the garden--Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent (Gen. 3)!  We come out of the womb pretty darn good at it.  Instead, we are called to have mercy and weep with the victims of the storm in Oklahoma--not make harsh declarations about their situation or generalize the wrath of God in a way that brings added pain.  Besides, our day may be coming!  Quarreling, harsh ridicule, judgment, false accusation, and condemnation are not part of love, mercy, and unity.

1 Corinthians 13 tells us clearly what love is.  Rachel Held Evans concluded her post in this debate with it, and I think it is a great way to conclude here.  The best way to keep ourselves balanced in the "middle" or "center" of God's Word and His will for us, is to love.  Love God first and foremost (and with a vengeance), love your spouse, love your kids, love your family, love your friends, love your church, and love yourself. When love is at the root, the fruit is vast and sweet, and the motivation to keep things balanced, centered, and in the middle never runs out. When love is key, finding the middle-ground with those in the body of Christ also becomes quite easy.  Praise God for His great love to us.

1 Corinthians 13, "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

Friday, May 24, 2013

Seeing the Signs

Anyone who has ever prayed to God for wisdom in an important matter has more than likely looked for, "signs," in what to do.  I was thinking about "signs" the other day.  Signs are interesting.  I believe they are subtle little reminders or "helps," if you will, in our life's journey that guide and aid us in awareness of truth or reality (sorry for that wordy definition--would you expect anything less from me?)!  But I happen to believe God uses signs regularly when we are seeking Him for a solution to a problem.  At times, they present themselves when we are just seeking HIM--when we are in tune to Him and having a quiet moment with Him.  More times than not, I think He uses them to show us truths that He is trying to drive home to us.  

There are good signs and bad ones.  Sadly, I see signs each year that I am aging.  Being a 43-year old, outdoor-girl who loves to run, golf, swim, bike, and pretty much anything else that gets me outside, I have some wrinkles.  Each year, I notice a little more grey hair on my head (thank the Lord, I'm a quarter Mexican and an eighth Cherokee Indian--so I don't have to spend too much money on covering it with color very often yet)!  I see signs of change in my grandparents and parents which make me more painfully aware that my time with them is lessening.  On a much more positive note, we can currently see signs of spring. Trees have been blooming in grand color and leaves are bursting forth with shiny-green, new life and growth.  The school year is ending and the store shelves are packed with summertime goods--picnic-ware, beach towels, sunscreen, and lawn-care items.  I love this time of year!

We can also see signs that the time of Christ is approaching.  In Luke 21, Jesus tells his disciples of the end times and the signs that will present themselves upon its nearing.  As you read down through the chapter, many of the "signs" of which He speaks are happening right now.  Therefore, many great theologians today argue and warn that the day of Jesus' return is quite near.  Christ tells us not to listen to anyone who tries to put an actual date on His return, because NO ONE on earth knows.  Christ also gives us these "signs" for which to watch so that we aren't fooled or deceived by anyone professing to be Him.  We can watch for these signs, but we also know from Revelation that upon His re-entrance to earth there won't be ANY doubt--EVERYONE will know it is Him, and EVERYONE will worship Him (even those who don't know Him and who refused to accept Him).  

If you aren't a Christian, you may have just read that last paragraph and thought, "What in the world is she talking about?" or, "Does she seriously think Jesus Christ is going to return to earth?  She must be mad!"  Well, yes--I am.  I am madly in love with Jesus Christ.  He saved me, He changed my life, He has never failed me, and He has proven Himself true too many times for me to count.  I have tested His Word, read it cover to cover, and investigated my faith on levels there isn't time to discuss in one blog.  Shamefully, I've had my doubts about the truth of God, as well.  But I sought Him and I found Him.  Signs played a big role in that.  Look around the vastness and detail of nature, at humans, at history, at fulfilled prophecy, at DNA and genetics, at our calendar system, at life in general.  If there is no God what is the meaning of all this?  Why is it that even when I feel lonely, I never really feel, "alone?"  There are more signs pointing to the existence of God than not.  Humbly and honestly ask God to show up in your life, and He will show up--with a vengeance.

Even the last prayer in the Bible has to do with the return of Christ.  In Revelation 22:20, it states, "He Who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.'  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus."   I love that this is the last prayer in God's Word.  To me, it is yet another sign from God that our hearts and minds need to be focused first and foremost on the return of our Savior.  We are to think of Him as a beloved One for whom we are, "leaving a light on," so to speak.  For years now, I have made it a morning mindset as I awake and slowly (perhaps begrudgingly) get out of bed, to say as my feet are hitting the floor, "Good morning, Lord.  Am I gonna see You today?"  I have personally made this my heart's anthem for a couple of reasons:  one, it helps me to place my thoughts and focus on the Lord and let Him know that I WANT His return and am ready for it should He choose for today to be the day; and two, I am so NOT a morning person, that I seriously HAVE to pray to begin the day with a remotely decent attitude!  (Plus, I'd much rather for Christ to return than to have to do the mundane--clean toilets, restock groceries, do laundry, etc.)!  The main things the Bible says we're going to do in heaven is praise, worship, sing, and EAT!  Since those are literally my favorite things to do, I'm more than ready to go!

Maybe you're someone who believes in coincidence. I do not.  I think God places people and things in our lives for a reason.  I think His timing is perfect.  I do not believe He would place us in the solar system spinning on a little blue ball in perfectly synchronized time and space, and then allow everything else to be chaotic and pointless.  There are signs everywhere pointing to the creative genius, wisdom, sovereignty, and order of God.  The fact that you're living and breathing today is a sign that He isn't finished with you yet.  I thank God for signs--even the hard ones.  They are actually only signs that our time to be with Him in eternity is coming closer--and for that I am grateful.  


Genesis 1:14, "And God said, "Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years,"...

Genesis 9:12-17, "And God said, 'This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come:  I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.  Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.'  So God said to Noah, 'This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.'"

Mark 16:15-18, "He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.  And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues;  they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.'”

Mark 8:11-12, "The Pharisees came out and began to argue with Him, demanding of Him a sign from heaven to test Him. But sighing deeply in His spirit, He said, 'Why does this generation demand a sign? I assure you: No sign will be given to this generation!'"

John 6:2, "And a great crowd of people followed Him because they saw the signs He had performed by healing the sick."

John 4:48, "'Unless you people see signs and wonders,' Jesus told him, 'you will never believe.'" 

John 20:29, "Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

Romans 1:18-25, "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.  Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.  They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen."

Luke 21:7-11, "'Teacher,' they asked, 'when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?He replied: 'Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in My Name, claiming, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.' Then He said to them: 'Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.'"

Romans 14:11, "It is written: 'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.'"

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Appearances Vs. Actuality

A couple of weeks ago while watching the sitcom, "Parks and Recreation" with my hubby, the idea for this blog hit me.  In this particular episode, a character named, "Jerry," (played by Jim O'Heir), is preparing to retire.  His boss and the show's leading lady, "Leslie," (played by Amy Poehler), is concerned that he is leaving without realizing any true success in his many years of service.  She feels badly that his life has been so, "unsuccessful" and "unfulfilling," and desires to find a way to make up for this before his last day at the office.  It is yet another hilarious episode.  But the best part is when she visits him at his home in her quest for trying to, "help" him.  Upon so doing, she meets his shockingly beautiful, adoring wife (played by Christie Brinkley) and his lovely daughters, and quickly understands that Jerry's home-life has vastly made up for any appearance of a lack of, "success," in his life.  As Jerry proudly shows her the evidence of how great his life has been from extensive family photo albums, Leslie sincerely congratulates him on a life well-led.  I found myself tearing-up as I laughed hysterically at the antics of Jerry and his family with their special, "dinner song," group hug, and other ridiculous family moments because I could so totally relate (my family has some pretty goofy, quirky "specialness," too)! Jerry reassures Leslie that his life has been more fulfilling than his wildest dreams.  He had always equated his success in life to his family life--and boy, had he been successful.

By all the world's standards, my life is not a great success.  I am not vastly wealthy.  I don't live in a fancy house.  I do not own more than one home.  I have never had an impressive job.  But as I watched this show on this night, I was reminded of the wealth of my marriage, my family, and my home-life.  I possess more photo albums than one can easily count, filled with lavish memories of precious times spent with my husband, my daughter, and my extended family.  I have an entire box full of notes written to me by students who claimed I was their, "favorite teacher," or the teacher who had, "made a difference" in their life.  Matt, Allie, and I have had and still have more quirky family "moments" and "inside jokes" than most.  I didn't make it my life's priority to become rich and important.  My marriage and my daughter have always been my top priorities and always will be.  I have no regrets for this.  When I come home, my husband always acts as if he hasn't seen me in days.  When I do not travel with him for his work, he throws a fit and then proceeds to call me each night and say, "I wish you were here.  I know I won't sleep well tonight."  On top of all that, I typically have to tell my husband to go spend time with his friends.  When I ask him why this is, he always says, "I just like being with you."  You cannot put a price on that.  This is my success and I wouldn't trade it for 20 houses or a place on, "The Voice." 

If I died today, I would have no regrets about anything.  The freedom of being able to say that honestly is worth more money than one can make in a lifetime.  I have loved everyone who has ever been in my life with a vengeance.  I have been honest with people even when it is hard.  I have forgiven those who have hurt me and worked to try to mend bridges when God urges me to do so.  I have given of my time, energy, money, and talents to those who need it and when/where God calls me to give it.  I have let go of people and things that bring me pain, undue strain, or zap my time and energy from the things that God says should come first.  I have been faithful to my husband and my family, working to spend quality time and investing in their lives above all else.  These are the real keys to success.  Forget what the world tells you.  Leave behind the list of, "do's" given by people who seek to run your life.  Let God do that for you--His list is reasonable and doable.  No job, no money, no vanity, and no positions are going to be there to hold your hand when you are sick or dying.  No energy and time invested in superficial people or things will ever leave a true legacy.  I heard a quote recently that sums it up well:  "Create a life that feels good on the inside and doesn't just look good on the outside."  Amen. 

Corroborating Scripture:

Proverbs 18:22, "He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord."

1 Samuel 16:7, "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."  

Matthew 16:26, "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?"

Proverbs 3:1-4, "My son, do not forget My teaching, but let your heart keep My commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of GOD and man."

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Taste Tester

In a recent blog-post of mine entitled, "Thankless Jobs," I shared about how I have struggled the past few months with eating inappropriately over the long, hard winter.  When I think about the reasons why I somewhat overeat (or rather, eat late at night when I should not), it really boils down to one thing--the desire to be, "filled." I partake of late-night treats for lots of reasons--most of all, I just love to eat!  But I snack due to boredom, stress, sadness, worry and hunger, as well (hunger actually happens to be a good reason.  But at my age, being hungry at night is a curse)!  I also struggle to abstain from eating after 8PM because my 6'1'', 165# husband eats all evening in front of me and never gains an ounce of weight.  I think he actually loses weight while he eats.  Lifting his hand to his mouth to scarf down popcorn is hard work.  I'm convinced it only boosts his metabolic rate!  Matt can sit around and graze all night and I am the one who gains weight just watching him.  It is pretty hard to exercise self-control while watching someone devour tasty snacks.  We laugh because Matt's hind-end seems to be disappearing the older he gets, and mine...well, you know.  I wonder if they have the old, "Buns of Steel" video out on Blue-ray yet?!

The other night while rummaging through the kitchen thinking I was starving to death, the verse from Psalm 34:8 came to my mind, "Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him."  I used to have this verse posted in large print on my refrigerator to remind myself that when I feel the need to be "filled," I need to go to my Lord instead of the "Little Debbies."  (They may be called, "little," but you won't be if you eat them at 10PM every night)!  The negative reasons for my inappropriate eating can all be alleviated pretty quickly and sufficiently by turning to God.  I know this.  So why do I fail to do it?  I think of what Paul says concerning his own afflictions with sin in Romans 7:15, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do."  Perhaps you are reading this and cannot relate because food isn't your particular vice.  Maybe you drink too much when you are sad.  Maybe you work yourself to death and ignore your family.  Maybe you shop too much.  Maybe you call up friends and vent to them instead of going to God with your problems and issues.  Maybe you are enticed by things on the Internet that are poisoning you and your marriage.  Maybe you waste time watching reality T.V., trolling Facebook, or playing Internet games to escape the reality of what is really bugging you.  We all do it.  We all have our particular little area(s) in life where we run for filling and escape, instead of running to God.  Funny how all those areas fail to fully satisfy our hunger to be filled.  They either leave us emptier, cost us something in return, or they hook us into needing more and more.  Entrapments never truly quench our needs--they are only temporary fixes.  Some escapes aren't innately harmful.  But in many cases, they are tricks.  God is the only safe and effective source for filling, and we walk away from time spent with Him truly refreshed, energized, and guiltless to boot (and God-time is always free and always accessible)! 

Sadly, there are many "faiths" out there that you can sample or taste for your personal liking.  I have studied all the main ones and the one truth that penetrated my soul about Christianity and my belief in Christ is that of God's great love, grace and mercy toward us.  He came to earth as a man to die in our place and we don't have to "do" anything to earn our salvation.  We just have to believe and accept that He did it.  It's done.  He loved us first and we just have to love Him back (1 John 4:19).  Every other faith out there tells you otherwise.  They imprison you to the idea that you have to, "do stuff," to earn your way to heaven or to the notion that you can never have eternal security (or worse, they tell you that YOU are your own Savior--yikes, that's a scary thought. I can't even keep up with my laundry)!  Christ tore down the "do-list."  He tore apart our bondage to the Law (God's commandments) and the fact that we can never be perfect.  He wants us to try to do good and keep His commandments, but He loves and accepts us as we are.  He crossed geographical, ethnic, socioeconomic, and gender lines.  He brought more freedom and hope to women and men alike than any other religion you will ever find.  Knowing the Bible was written by more than 40 inspired prophets, eyewitnesses, and men who actually walked with Christ, is another solidifying fact for me that Christianity is The Truth.  Other "faiths" are typically the ideas of ONE MAN's "visions" (and women are just a side-note or possession with little to no guarantee of eternal salvation).  It is no accident that we are keeping the calendar based on the life of this man, Jesus.  It is also no coincidence that the Holy Bible is still the number one best-selling book in the world.  I am fully convinced that the aforementioned verse (Psalm 34:8), is God's way of inviting you to give Him an honest taste-test.  He invites us all daily to His table of truths for feasting. 

Perhaps you don't really know God or understand how to run to Him when you are hurting, needing refueled, or desiring an escape.  It is easy, friend.  Invite God into your life.  Read His Word--the Holy Bible (the corroborated true one, not any of the ones written by "ONE" person).  Talk to Him.  Tell Him everything.  Praise Him and give Him thanks daily.  Run to Him every time you feel yourself running to the vice(s).  He is good.  He will fill you.  He will be your Great Escape and your strength.  He promises us this.  At times, He can seem pretty far away, even to those of us who claim to know Him.  We all walk through many trials temporarily in this fallen world, but God never fails us.  He walks with us through them and He is there--always.  Even in death He promises to be with us (Matt. 28:20).  He will fill you if you truly seek Him and just ask.  Skip the bon-bons--grab a Bible.

Key Verses:

Psalm 34:8, "Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him."

Romans 15:13, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Back Seat Driver

Jim Congdon, the head pastor of my church, has recently started a new sermon series called, "Life is Unfair," from the book of Habakkuk.  Several of my blog posts have been extensions or further commentary on Pastor Jim's sermons because he is not only a thought-provoking teacher (and gets my mental juices flowing), but I truly desire to give him some credence for that incredible teaching.  If you do not attend a church for whatever reason (even if you do), I highly recommend going to my church's website (Topeka Bible Church) and listening to Pastor Jim's Sunday Podcasts.  The link is:  Pastor Jim will not disappoint you. He is an amazingly gifted teacher, speaker, and student of God's Word.  With credentials that far surpass most pastors, he could truly be preaching at a mega-church.  But he humbly prefers to minister to our Midwest congregation, God love him.

Sunday's sermon dealt with a problem we all have--trusting, relaxing, and waiting on God.  I have blogged in the past about this topic and extensively in a blog post entitled, "While We Wait."  If you're an impatient, control freak like me, waiting isn't your best trait.  Add to that the fact that I am a recovering perfectionist and you've got the perfect storm for struggling with trusting, relaxing, and waiting.  Basically, I want things to be right and I want them right, right now!  Many of you can painfully relate to this, and to those who cannot, I envy you greatly!

In the summer of 2011 on a trip to Florida with my husband, God gave me an object lesson on my issues with control and trust that I have never forgotten.  That summer was one of the hardest in my life.  I have blogged about the reasons and details of that at length, so no need to bemoan them here.  In short, we were on this trip at a time in my life when I was tormented with trusting, relaxing, and waiting on a lot of levels.  One morning, Matt and I decided to rent a tandem bicycle from our resort hotel.  We had never before ridden one, and thought it would be fun to enjoy the beautiful beach weather while riding romantically in the sunrise down an ocean-side trail (doesn't that sound fabulous?).  Now I don't pride myself on being the, "submissive type," but I'm not such a control-freak that I don't know my place in most facets.  Naturally, Matt would be in front and would "lead," and I would ride in back and "help" pedal us along.  It would be just like God's perfect intention for us in marriage--the husband leads and the wife is his, "help-meet."  Perfect unity and all would be well with the world!  Perhaps I would even be able to take photographs on our wonderful adventure since I would just be along for the ride (and since I am an obsessive photographer).  I recall Matt saying, "Honey, do you think you can really carry your camera AND help pedal?"  Since leaving my camera behind was not even a rational thought, I replied, "Oh, sure!"  We hopped on the bike and Matt gave some quick instructions as best he could considering neither one of us knew what the heck we were doing.  We took off and for some reason, Matt thought the only way to keep the thing rolling and upright was to pedal fast.  So much for relaxing, romantic cruise along the beach trail.  I was shrieking and yelling that he was pedaling too fast, and then there were the steering and balance issues.  We also had taken a wrong turn and were now on the road instead of the trail.  We were weaving uncontrollably and cars were coming at us.  I couldn't see because Matt is so stinking tall and I am so, "not tall!"  This put me out of my comfort zone quite rapidly.  Matt kept hollering at me saying, "Settle down!  Stop trying to steer!  Would you just pedal?! Stop screaming!"  Before we'd even gone a half-mile, we were arguing and I was terrified for my very life.  At one moment I felt God say, "Would you just let him lead and chill-out!"  So I shut-up and just pedaled.  Suddenly the ride became much more enjoyable.  Then I began to laugh--hysterically.  I could not stop laughing.  Matt said angrily, "What is so funny?"  I told him and then we were both laughing hysterically.  It was the perfect picture of our marriage.  From day one, I have always tried to lead, and Matt has always gotten angrily annoyed at me in return.  God had worked on me for years to let go and let Matt lead, and God had worked on Matt to lead gently and lovingly in a way that commands my trust.  Now we were relearning this yet again in a new realm.  We finally got into a groove on that crazy bike and did enjoy the ride.  It took a little while, but I know God used that quirky moment to help me.  He knows I'm a visual learner, and He gave me that moment to recall--not only for help with my control issues in my marriage, but also for help in my personal trust issues with Him.  Now whenever I feel mistrusting of Matt or fearful of his leadership, I think of that silly tandem bicycle.   Whenever I begin to doubt or fear that God isn't going to work all things for my good, I think of that goofy bike ride.  You cannot relax, enjoy life, and take pictures along the way if you're clenching your fists onto the handlebars and screaming.  I finally relaxed enough to even let go and snap some photos along our ride (nothing gets in the way of my photography)!  But did I truly believe Matt would steer us into traffic?  Ridiculous.  My attempt to steer that bike from the back is what almost killed us.  Why do we mistrust God in the same way?  He would never steer us into traffic for sport.

Pastor Jim shared 3 main points in his sermon on waiting that I know I will never forget.  He said that even when we doubt God due to the injustices and hardships around us and in our own lives, we must relax, trust God, and wait patiently on His plan.  God IS just--He WILL make things right in our lives.  He WILL deliver us from our troubles eventually.  He WILL seek vengeance on our oppressors in life.  God has given the enemy and sinful man some power here for a time.  So we have imperfection--we have sin, evil, pain, sorrow, hurt, toiling, and discouragement.  But God's ultimate plan will be just and perfect, and we can count on it.  Habakkuk 2 speaks to all of these things.  We may not understand God's methods fully at this moment in time, but one day we will.  One day, all really will be well with the world.  The only way to forge ahead joyfully in this journey called life is to do those three things:  relax, trust, and wait.  Pastor Jim gave the congregation a great visual for this.  He had us place our hands over our hearts and say, "I trust your plan and timing for my life, Lord."  Then we placed our hand over our mouths and said, "I will relax and be silent before You, Lord."  Last, he had us put our hand over one eye and say, "I will wait patiently hoping in Your perfect plan for the future, Lord."  What a great way to demonstrate these three actions.  I realized Sunday as I thought about that tandem bike yet again, that those three things are essentially what Matt (and God) were wanting me to do as I sat in that backseat helping to pedal (and also trying to drive or lead).  I needed to relax (i.e., shut-up and stop screaming), I needed to trust Matt's leadership, and I needed to be patient while we worked out the kinks in our new adventure of tandem biking (or, "wait").  In true Steph-form, I wanted that bike ride to be perfect from the first moment.  Much like life, it wasn't.  Instead of shrieking about it and freaking out, I should have just trusted and pedaled.  That's really all God wants from us--trust and pedal. 

TRUST:  Habakkuk 2:4, "The just shall live by faith."
RELAX:  Habakkuk 2:20, "The LORD is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silent before Him."
WAIT:  Habakkuk 2:14, "The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea."