Tuesday, September 17, 2013

BSF Matthew, Lesson 1, Day 6

12.  What truth about Jesus and truth about yourself challenged you this week, and how may your group pray for you about this?
I see abuse.  I see sickness and disease and suffering.  I see anguish and torment of all kinds.  I see hunger and poverty and lack.  I see loneliness and estrangement and depression.  There is so much longing, so much ache, so much brokenness, so much that is not right in this world.  The pain weighs heavy on my heart and soul.  BUT, there is a deeper, greater truth than that which my eyes behold.  I cannot view Jesus through the prism of this world; I must view this world through the prism of Jesus!  The truth of who He is and what He has promised allows me to see the hard things in the light of His goodness and know that it is His goodness that will have the final say.
Please pray that I would have my eyes fixed on Jesus this week: high, holy, lifted up, seated on His throne, victorious, conquering King Jesus.  He still reigns, and for this reason, I can rejoice!!!

BSF Matthew, Lesson 1, Day 5

9a.  Give at least one fact from each of the following prophecies that was fulfilled in the birth of Christ.
Genesis 3:15--God promised a descendant who would crush the enemy's head.  This promised deliverer would come through the woman.  With the birth of Jesus, that promised offspring has finally arrived!
Genesis 49:8-12--Jacob blessed Judah and prophesied that Messiah would come through Judah's line.  Verse 2 tells us that Jesus came in the flesh as a descendant of Judah.
Psalm 2:7--"I will proclaim the decree of the Lord:  He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have become Your Father."  This baby, Jesus, is the only begotten Son of the Most High God.
Isaiah 7:14--The virgin became pregnant.  She bore a son, and he was given the name Immanuel.
Isaiah 9:6-7--The prophesied child is born!  The given Son has arrived!  The faith of many (like Simeon and Anna) has become sight.

9b.  Which one of these prophecies does Matthew quote?  Give verse in Matthew 1.
Verse 23 of Matthew 1 quotes Isaiah 7:14, "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means "God with us").

10a.  How did Joseph prove his faith in God's word?
by action--When he woke up, Joseph DID what the angel had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

10b.  Can you share with your group how you proved your faith in God's word at a time when your plan was not the same as God's plan?
I won't share the whole story here because it's rather long, but my trip to Honduras was the first thing that came to mind.  I had recently entered the workforce after years of being a stay at home mom.  Around that same time, my church was promoting their short term mission trips for the upcoming year.  God stirred in my heart, and I knew it was His Spirit inviting me to say "yes" and take His love to the poorest of the poor in another country.  I was so excited!  But when I shared my heart with my husband, he forbid me from going.  I was angry!  Who is he to stand in the way of what God is asking me to do?  Aren't I the one earning the money?  Why shouldn't I put a little aside each paycheck to fulfill a dream and answer a call?  I was not prepared to accept his "no."  But as I prayed, I knew God was asking me to submit to my husband's "no."  Finally, I gave in.  I surrendered my will to God's and accepted that I would not be going on a mission trip anytime soon.  But I was confused.  Why would God give me the desire only to shut the door?  It didn't make any sense.  Still, I bent my knee.  I prayed God would remove the desire, but He didn't.  "Ok, God, you clearly have a plan.  I don't understand it, but I'll play my part.  I will carry this desire.  I will be pregnant with this dream.  I trust that in Your perfect timing, this yearning will be fulfilled....but I do want it to be Your will and Your way."  I put the dream on the back burner and went about my daily life.  Long story short, several months later, there was an opportunity through my employer to apply for a spot on a work-sponsored humanitarian mission to Honduras.  I prayed, submitted my essay and waited.  A short time later, I found out I had been selected to travel to Honduras and spend a week volunteering with a wonderful organization called Casa de Luz.  Better yet, the trip was all expenses paid AND I was paid my regular salary for the week I was gone!  Not only did I not have to pay, but they paid me!  It was an amazing trip; I so knew God had gone before and orchestrated every single detail.  When I returned home and checked my church's website, none of their short term mission trips traveled to Honduras.  God knew what He was doing; Honduras is the country that has my heart, the people I fell in love with, the land that is my prayer burden.  I am so thankful I waited on God's perfect plan and timing because He proved His greatness and faithfulness beyond anything I could ask, dream or imagine!

11.  Try to put yourself in Mary's place and in Joseph's place.
a.   How do you think their faith caused them to suffer?
I'm sure most people did not believe that Mary's child was the result of an Immaculate Conception.  Logical, rational, thinking people would have had their doubts.  I'm sure Mary and Joseph were the objects of gossip and scorn, looked down upon, judged harshly and unfairly, perhaps outright ostracized by some.

b.  What do you think they gained through their faith?
Immediately, Matthew 5:10 came to mind.  "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."  What did they gain?  Jesus became theirs.  They received the incomparable riches of a personal, up-close relationship with God Incarnate... intimacy with the Divine.  I just want to shout "Grace!  Grace!  Beautiful!  Beautiful!" because the same invitation exists for me (and you) today.  By grace through faith, God makes His home with me!  God makes himself incarnate (not a flesh and blood incarnation, but "manifest" or "comprehensible") to me!  This is great mystery, that the unknowable makes Himself knowable, and it's no less a miracle than the fact that God once walked our planet as a toddler!

c.  How do their rewards encourage you to suffer for your faith?
My faith is not always rewarded in this life (at least not in tangible ways), but I can guarantee you that no one in Heaven is complaining about the raw deal they received here on earth.  The glory that awaits us is such an all-surpassing glory that no earthly hardship can compare.  Galatians 6:9 comes to mind:  "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."  I know that when I suffer for my faith, I am only trading temporary comfort for eternal reward.  I want to store my treasure up in Heaven, not on earth, for what I see (this world) is quickly perishing, but what I cannot see (the world to come) will never end!

BSF Matthew, Lesson 1, Day 4

7a.  What five things did Gabriel say about Mary's son?
1. He will be great.  2.  He will be called the Son of the Most High.  3.  The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father, David.  4.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever.  5.  His kingdom will never end.

7b. (Challenge)  Of whom do both Matthew and Luke state that Jesus was born besides Mary?  How do you connect this truth with Genesis 1:2, Job 33:4 and John 3:6?
Both Matthew and Luke point to the Holy Spirit being intimately involved in the conception of Jesus.  Connecting these verses with the other three struck me in a powerful way.  I see the Holy Spirit hovering over the water at Creation, empowering the words of the Father, and bringing the world into being.  All life is God breathed, and it was His Spirit that brought my spirit to life at the moment of my salvation.  I, too, have experienced what Mary experienced!  The Holy Spirit came upon ME, and the power of the Most High overpowered ME, and I was born into God's family!  What an incredible truth!!!

7c.  How do these truths about Jesus' identity help or encourage you?
There is so much encouragement in the truth that forever Jesus reigns.  That reality brings a supernatural infusion of strength and courage.  Whatever darkness falls on the face of this earth, whatever shadows fall across my own life and heart, even if the very foundations of this world are shaken, no matter what trouble comes, Jesus is still enthroned!  My hope is in Him and His Kingdom that will never end!  In every circumstance, every rise and every fall, my Jesus reigns, and nothing and no one can dethrone Him!

8a.  How did Mary's words show her faith?
"I am the Lord's servant.  May it be to me as you have said."  She believed that He was and is capable of doing the impossible!  She believed that the word of the Lord does not return void; it accomplishes the purpose for which it is sent.  Mary showed her faith through her submission (her "yes").  God's ways are higher than our ways.  His thoughts are higher than our own.  Mary knew this, and it motivated her surrender.  Knowing the greatness of Yahweh, she could say, "Lord, have Your way in me!"

8b.  What lesson do you learn from Mary's response and how can you apply this lesson to your life this week?  
Is God less involved in the circumstances of my life because I am not the mother of the Messiah?  No!  My body is the very temple of the Most High God.  I, too, house His Son.  I am no more or less important to Him than Mary was.  His eyes are on me just as they were on her.  Therefore, my circumstances are no less God-ordained or God-orchestrated.  Every single thing that comes my way has first been sifted through His hands of love.  So because of my confidence in God and His Sovereignty, I can say, "yes."  I can practice surrender and submission.  All the days of my life were written in His book before one of them came to be.  Because of this rock-solid assurance in the character and absolute authority of my God, I can say like Mary, "I am Your servant, Lord.  May it be unto me as You have written, as You have ordained."  My faith grows as I choose to trust that the universe and my life have not spun out of control, but are unfolding according to plan, for my Jesus still reigns and my God is still on the throne!  Though I haven't seen His blueprints and I rarely understand His ways,  I trust my Papa.  I know Abba's plans are beyond anything I could possibly ask, dream or imagine!  When all is said and done, I know I will never regret surrendering my will to His!

BSF Matthew Study, Lesson 1, Day 3

5a.  Give the two names given to Mary's son and what each name means.  Give verses.
Matthew 1:21, Jesus (which means "the Lord saves"), and Matthew 1:23, Immanuel (which means "God with us")

5b.  What difference has each of these names made to your life?
He has saved me from SO much!  I've been saved from emptiness and meaninglessness, saved from the wrath of God, saved from the dark prison of shame and guilt and condemnation that kept me in solitary confinement, isolated and alone.  My Savior has changed my very nature and identity, from "dead (wo)man walking" to "alive in Christ!"
And Immanuel....His Presence is everything to me and has given me the strength I've needed to face the darkest of nights and the fiercest of storms with a peace that defies explanation.  My heart echoes the heart of Moses in Exodus 33:15, "If Your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here."  How thankful I am to live on this side of the finished work of Jesus!  His very Spirit indwells me, and nothing and no one has the power to separate us!

6a.  What do you learn about the word "saved" from each of the following verses?
John 3:17, "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him."  This verse tells me that salvation is God's heartbeat.  God's very heart beats with the rhythm of salvation.  The purpose for Jesus arriving on earth in flesh was and is salvation. It's why He came; it's the POINT of the Incarnation.  I'm also struck by the object of that verb "saved."  The object is the world.  No exceptions.  No exclusions.  God desires that "the world" (all who live in it) would be saved.  I have never met a person whom God does not love and desire to adopt into His own family.
John 8:24, He has saved me from the terrible fate of "dying in my sins."
John 10:14-16,  I have been saved from wandering.  I now have a Good Shepherd and a place to belong in His flock.
Acts 4:12,  There is only ONE who can save; His Name is Jesus (and He saves to the uttermost).
Romans 10:9, There is an internal and an external component of salvation.  external=>confession, internal=>belief in your heart
Ephesians 2:5,8,  Salvation is God's work, to His credit alone, not ours.  "It is by grace you have been saved...."

6b.  What positive and/or negative thoughts does the word "saved" bring to you?  Why?
To those who feel satisfied and strong and believe they are self-made successes, with hearts full of pride, salvation is an affront, an insult.  "Who me?  Need a Savior?  I need nothing!"
But to me, it is a priceless treasure.  I know myself to be a sinner.  I know brokenness and mess and need.  I know I cannot do it on my own.  My only hope is in the salvation of my Lord!  How very grateful I am for the saving grace of my Redeemer, King Jesus!

BSF Matthew Study, Lesson 1, Second Day

3a For each woman in Jesus's genealogy, give facts from the background passage.
Tamar--Genesis 38--She was Judah's daughter-in-law, widowed by both of Judah's older sons.  When Judah failed to keep his promise and marry her to the third son, Tamar disguised herself as a temple prostitute and had sexual relations with her father-in-law.  She became pregnant by Judah, giving birth to twin boys, Perez and Zerah.  I'm not sure about Jewish customs at the time, but it seems to me that this would have been an incestuous relationship.
Rahab--Joshua 2; 6:17--A prostitute from Jericho, Rahab believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  She proved this both in word ("for the Lord your God is God in Heaven above and on the earth below") and deed (by risking her own life to help God's people, hiding the spies of Israel).
Ruth--1; 4:13-17--As a Moabite woman, she was not one of God's "chosen people," but she chose Him, and God honored that choice.  She became the great grandmother of King David, and her romance with Boaz is a picture of our sacred romance with our own Kinsman Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ.
"Wife of Uriah"--2 Samuel 11, 12:15, 18, 24--She had an adulterous affair with King David (possibly forced, for the text clearly states that she grieved when her husband, Uriah, died).  Her first son died as a consequence of that sin, but their second son is named in the genealogy of Christ.  I am just stunned by the greatness of our God, that He is a God of fresh starts, second chances and new beginnings.
Mary--Luke 1:26-56--young, virgin, poor (the "humble state of His servant")

b. (Challenge)  Why do you think God included each of these women with a place in this genealogy?  For the answer to this question, see my post on 9/11, "A Whosoever Like Me."  I continue to marvel at the ways in which God uses imperfect people to accomplish His perfect plans.

c. Which of the women do you consider expressed their faith in action?  I think they all did, but I chose to write about Rahab and her actions in hiding the Israelite spies.  I'm sure she helped them at great risk to her own life and the lives of her family members.  Her actions proved that she believed (and trusted) in God more than she feared man.  I think that's pretty incredible faith for a pagan prostitute!

d.  Can you tell about a recent time you expressed your faith in action?  I met a friend for breakfast Sunday.  She is facing some "giants" in her life.  Before I knew God, I probably would not have met with her at "such a time as this" because I don't have any answers.  What do I say?  How can I "fix" it?  What wisdom do I have to offer?  But with God, I no longer fear these encounters.  I listen, and then I express my faith in action....I pray with and for her.  I know there is nothing in me that can meet her need right now, but I know the One who is THE Need-Meet-er.

4. (Challenge) a. Why is it important that Jesus is the son of David and the son of Abraham?
to fulfill prophecy; Abraham and David were both given specific promises that Messiah would come through their line of descendants.  Both had to be true of Jesus if He was, indeed, the King of the Jews.
4b. For what other reasons do you think Christ's genealogy is important?  It shows that He came as a real baby through real people.  He came to us as one of us, not some extraterrestrial being or an alien.  God could have sent Jesus to earth as an other-worldly man with no history, no past, no lineage.  But, instead, Jesus experienced all that we experience.  He came to earth just as every one of us since Adam and Eve have arrived.  He grew in a womb.  He experienced childbirth.  He entered the world covered in blood and mucus and fluids.  He had a "soft spot."  His baby eyes were still fuzzy and unfocused.  He was not immune from cold or heat or the scratchiness of straw animal bedding on the delicate softness of newborn skin.  What an incredible act of love!  I will never be able to fully comprehend the extent of that humbling this side of Heaven!

BSF Matthew Study, Lesson 1, Day 1 questions

I've been debating whether or not to turn this into a BSF blog, but I've decided to post my answers here weekly.  I just get so excited about the truths I'm learning/re-learning/meditating on, but I don't really have anyone with whom to share.  I am in a discussion group, of course, but it's the Leader's Circle (I'm a preschool children's leader this year) so it's a fairly large circle.  There's so much wisdom in that group; I want to be listening and learning way more than I'm sharing.  I think sharing my answers on the blog will be a nice way to feel like I'm not just shouting "Hallelujah!" by myself as the Lord reveals Himself and gives insight.

So, without further ado, let's dive right in:
Question 1.  What did you apply to your life from the lecture?
One of the things our TL shared in lecture was Proverbs 30:5, "Every word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him."  She then connected that verse to Jesus Christ because He IS the Word, the Word become flesh, the Word by Name; He is the flawless One.  I just really fixed my eyes on the flawlessness of Christ this week and just beheld Him in the fullness of His beauty,  His utter Holiness and His complete righteousness.  When my vision fills with His unmarred perfection, all else fades.  He becomes the prism through which I view all things (self, others, circumstances, etc).  Captivated by Jesus and the totality of who He is, nothing else matters.  I don't always fix my eyes on Jesus, and that's when I start to drown in the storms of life.  But this week, meditating on this truth, I metaphorically "walked on water!"

Question 2.  Which thoughts in the notes did you find particularly helpful or interesting?
This goes along with my question to answer one, but at the end of page 6, there's a paragraph that talks about the vital importance of recognizing Jesus in His "infinite majesty and divine power.  Only then do we begin to understand His grace in taking our sins upon Himself."  In renewing my mind by fixing my eyes on Christ, I focused on God Himself, Wisdom personified, that perfect Lamb without spot or wrinkle or blemish who is also the Lion of Judah, full of grace and truth, the Godhead in bodily form, this One, the incomparable and all-surpassing Glorious One becoming sin on my behalf to destroy the power of sin in my life and clothe me in His righteous!  It's almost too much!  It's overwhelming!  I feel like my heart could just burst from the goodness of my God and Savior!  It's the simple message of the gospel, but it never grows old or stale.  It is the message of salvation, and I will always be so very grateful for the cross of Christ!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A "Whosoever" Like Me

Who would have thought I'd be moved to tears reading a geneology?  But when it comes to the geneology of our Lord Jesus Christ, seeing names like Tamar and Rahab and Ruth and the "wife of Uriah" and Mary, how could I not be overcome?  The inclusion of these women shows that God is no respecter of persons.  He does not play favorites.  The way to get into God's family is not by having the right pedigree or a killer resume.  No, God is interested in the heart; the only qualifier is genuine faith in a sincere heart.

I am so incredibly thankful God is like this!  How I love Him for His goodness and kindness and generosity towards us all!  The world draws lines:  those who are "in" and those who are "out," the "somebodies" and the "nobodies."  I've felt the sting of being pronounced a "nobody."  I think that's why it melts my heart that God says "yes" to everyone who will have Him!  Not a begrudging "yes."  Not an "if I have to" weary "yes" with a long sigh that lets you know He would really rather not.  NO!  My God delights in grafting us--"losers," "have-nots," "untouchables," "ragamuffins," stained and sullied sinners with no redeeming qualities of our own--US, into His very own family.  He jumps up and down with joy and does cartwheels to open the gates of Heaven to the "least of these!"  Who is like the Lord our God?!?!?!

As I meditate on this truth, Acts 10:34-35 fills my mind.  Listen to these words of Peter:  "I know realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right."

The Message captures the emotion that I feel:  "Peter fairly EXPLODED with his Good News:  "It's God's own truth, nothing could be plainer:  GOD plays no favorites!  It makes no difference WHO you are or WHERE you're from--if you want God and are ready to do what He says, THE DOOR IS OPEN!  The message He sent to the children of Israel--that through Jesus Christ EVERYTHING is being put together again--well, He's doing it EVERYWHERE, among EVERYONE!"

Perhaps the most beautiful word in John 3:16 is "whosoever,"  who. so. ever.  Whatever person, no matter who, if you are a "whosoever," God is for you, He loves you, and He longs to save you.

Thank You, Jesus, that You came for a "whosoever" like me!!!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Psalm 121 in my own words

I am traveling through this world, making my way towards my Homecoming.  Along the way, You know there are many dangers and sometimes I am afraid.
afraid of being alone
afraid of failure
afraid of conflict
afraid of facing reality
afraid of success
afraid of confrontation
afraid of my own inadequacy
afraid of the opinions of men
afraid of looking foolish
afraid of my enemies
afraid of faltering, stumbling, tumbling, falling......
But, LORD, You are my keeper!
As I journey towards my Eternity, I will trust You to get me there safely.  You are my guardian and protector.  My eternal destiny is secure in You.  My soul is being saved for the day when my faith will become sight.
You give me the courage to face down my fears because You hold all things in Your hands.
You are the all-mighty, the constantly unchanging, the all-knowing, the all-powerful, all-present Creator, the Maker of Heaven and Earth!  Is anything too hard for You?  No, of course not!  So what do I have to fear?!?!
"As for me, I TRUST in YOU, O LORD!  I say YOU are my God!  My times are in Your hand..."  --Psalm 31:14-15a
You are my help.
You are my protector.
You watch over me.
You guard my every step.
You are my keeper!
My Good Shepherd, I trust You implicitly!
Thank You for Your promise that You will protect my coming and going both now and tomorrow and every tomorrow without end!  Help me to be ever mindful of this truth, and may this knowledge stir in me a boldness and courage that is supernatural.  Give me the grace to step out in faith and obey You with complete confidence (no, not self-confidence, but GOD-confidence), for You are my source, my shelter, my safety, my "panic room" where no harm can befall except for that which You allow.  And, EVEN THEN, I will trust You and praise You, knowing that all things are working together for my eternal good and Your glory!
My eternity is secure in You, and it is well with my soul!
Your daughter who loves You so, so much (but not nearly as much as You love me),
Thank You!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Marching On to Freedom Land

In a nutshell, let me just answer the questions I left off with in my previous post.  Is God big enough?  Is He capable of truly making me into a new creation at my core?  Does He intend for me to have victory in this struggle?  Yes, yes, and yes!  A thousand times over....YES!!!

Again, these are ramblings.  I am sharing with you what was revealed to me only moments before so I apologize in advance if these thoughts aren't completely coherent.

Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things and without cure.  Who can understand it?"

I've been grieved by my sin as God has opened my eyes to the extensiveness of this sin pattern in my everyday choices.  I doubt there is an area of my life that this philosophy of lack has not influenced me and led me into sin.  Even behaviors that appear "good" to myself or others, if they are motivated by fear or insecurity, are not pleasing to God.  He judges the heart, not just the actions.  I'll give you one example:  I have an insatiable hunger for the word of God!  I cannot get enough!  I am so thankful to God that He has gifted me with this zeal for the Scriptures!  But....there was an obsessive quality to it, and the enemy used this to accuse and torment me.  I brought my "Jesus addiction" to God and asked Him to show me if there was anything displeasing to Him in my compulsion to study the Bible.  I know we're supposed to meditate on His word day and night.  I could point out verse after verse that would justify my actions.  But it also seemed that the enemy was being allowed to sift me, and I know God only allows him to sift us if there is something in us that needs sifting.  God so faithfully, kindly, gently, and lovingly shone His healing light into my depths.  Scenes came to my mind, parts of sermons I sat through as a young girl in a church that tried to motivate its congregation to right living through fear.  Pastors would preach from the pulpit, "we have to be in the Word because a day is coming when 'they' will confiscate our Bibles.  We'll be imprisoned for our belief in Jesus, and the only truth we will have is the truth we have memorized.  Be in the Word.  Be in the Word.  Be in the Word."  God wants me to be in His Word because of a pure and unadulterated love for Him, not because I'm driven by a fear of future lack.

Oh, do you see how deceptive our sins can be!  I am so sobered to realize that I can be blindly walking in sin, all the while "congratulating" myself on my "piousness" in that very area!  I shudder at the mere thought of such self-delusion!  But I have to acknowledge that this is the reality of my heart, soul and mind apart from Him.

My latest "aha" moments have come as God has revealed some fear, insecurity, and trust (or, better stated, DIStrust) issues.  I see now that there are two world views:  one is that we live in a world of limited resources, and everyone must fight for their slice of the "pie."  This world view is fear based, and the foundation of this life is insecurity.  Fear and insecurity are the signposts on this road as you journey with an overriding sense that "lack" is stalking you, ever behind you like a shadow, gaining on you, nipping at your heels, sure to overtake you at any moment, about to consume and devour and destroy you.  It is a miserable way to live.  I know this because it's been my worldview.  It's motivated so many of my choices, decisions and behaviors.

I know the other worldview only by the furtive glances over high fences, stolen glimpses of a land I desire but never thought would be accessible to someone like me.  Consequently, I don't know how to articulate it all that well.  I know it only because it must be the opposite of my reality to date.  It's marked by a deep, underlying sense of security.  It operates from a perspective of abundance, of limitless resources, of plenty, of lavish banquet tables and overflowing cups of anointing with jars of oil that never run dry!  It's a life of trusting, believing, knowing, experiencing, and living in the fullness of His Goodness to me!!!  Is He really that good?  Could it really be true?  Oh, yes, child, He is not only that good, He is so much better, better than you could ever comprehend!!!!  (And I just have to add here that His goodness cannot be measured by our circumstances!  Did you hear me, believer? Your circumstances are not the indicator of God's goodness to you!!!  This is not a "prosperity gospel" I am preaching; it's a God-gospel through and through.  From A to Z, start to finish, alpha to omega, it's all about HIM, HIM, HIM!)

Until recently, I didn't even see this sin in my own heart!  I was deluded, thinking that because I knew truth in my mind, I was living in it.  Because I knew the right theology and could choose the correct worldview on a multiple choice test, I thought my intellectual assent was right living in this area.  Oh, child of God, do not be mistaken:  knowing truth and living it are two very different things!  Believing truth is great (it is, in fact, essential), but there are degrees of believing, and we must believe it so completely and thoroughly that it affects the way we live.

I don't have perspective on my own life.  I am so thankful that God sees clearly, and that He offers me revelation when I ask.  He sees the deep healing that still needs to occur.  I have been trying to be sanctified from the bad fruit in my life while God is after the bad roots.  I am incapable of pulling these bad roots out without Him, but luckily, He doesn't ask me to.  He does all the "heavy lifting;" I just need to cooperate with HIS demolition and rebuilding process.

I am incredibly excited because I know that God does not reveal sin to us unless He intends to set us free from our bondage and liberate us to live out more of His Kingdom on the soil of this earth!  When He first exposed my heart to me in this way, I questioned whether this new vision of freedom and liberation were even possible.  Isn't it just our lot in this world as human beings, to fear lack on some level?  Just turn on the news:  scarcity does seem to be the reality of this world!  Am I expecting too much to even consider the possibility that I could live differently as a daughter of the King of Kings?  Is removal of this burden even possible, or must I wait for Heaven to feel truly safe in His arms?  Can He really change me that radically, that wholly, that completely, that totally?  We will always struggle against our flesh in this world, and this was one battle where I had resigned myself to a life of constant struggle and no victory.

Oh, ye of little faith!  Lift your eyes to Heaven!  Behold your redeemer!  He commands angel armies!  Is anything too difficult for Him?!?!  He has made me aware of this sin pattern because He intends to SET ME FREE from these chains!  The enemy has had his way with me for far too long.  I have heard my God shout, "Enough!"  And I am filled with new strength and new energy because I know that God finishes the work that He begins.  He will not abandon me halfway through.  His plan for my life is to make me a new creation, and nothing and no one can thwart the plans of GOD ALMIGHTY!  Who is like the Lord our God?!?!?!  Great is His Name, and greatly to be praised!!!!!

Notes from the Trenches

What I'm sharing today is not a polished essay.  It's very much the ramblings and musings of someone who is learning and growing and very much in the messiness of process.  I have not arrived.  I am currently and actively struggling towards freedom, but I pray that some of these insights and revelations will be useful and encouraging to you in your journey.

Yesterday I was at BSF.  With the story of Jacob and Esau at the forefront of my thoughts, I entered the sanctuary for lecture.  I don't know why, but God frequently speaks to me there.  Often, my hand won't stop writing for the entire sixty minutes, but the words I write are the record of a dialogue that is happening between God and me.  Sometimes I hear very little of what Beth says because the voice of God is simply speaking louder and more insistently, stirring my soul in ways I can't ignore.  Somehow, I think Beth Johnson wouldn't mind one bit!  ;)

Here are my scribbled thoughts (what should have been my lecture notes):
"Live for today."
I saw that slogan on a shirt yesterday.  Actually, it was worn by the little five year old girl that I care for three days a week.  With the life lesson of Esau fresh in my mind, my reaction to that T-shirt was strong and adverse!  Do you see where living for today ends?  It ends in selling your birthright for a bowl of stew.

Oh, that I would NOT live for today alone, but with a divine awareness of the impact of each and every choice!  My choices reverberate throughout all the days of my life and even into succeeding generations.  See Exodus 20:  the sins of the fathers are visited on the children for three or four generations, but God extends His loving kindness to a thousand generations of those who fear Him and remember to keep His covenant and obey His precepts!  The destiny of a thousand generations may be hinging on how I handle the test that God has put in front of me.  Passages of Scripture come to mind: Deuteronomy 30, the offer of life or death, and Joshua 24:15, the call to decision.

But that decision is not a once-for-all thing.  It is a daily thing, a moment by moment thing.  Ultimately, our CHOICE (singular) is composed of a million trillion billion tiny CHOICES (plural) that come our way throughout the fabric of our everyday buried in the minutiae....the small details of our daily lives.  That cashier gives me $15 change when I'm only owed $5.  The next cashier rings up one puzzle instead of two.  If I fail that test, what does it reveal about my heart?  What is the fundamental sin that is lurking there?

This is the test that comes my way over and over and over again.  Why?  I think I'm passing the tests, but God still presents the same test over and over so there must be something He wants me to learn that I haven't yet.  Here's the thing:  even though I end up doing the right thing, I still struggle internally first.  Does God want me to get to the point where it (my obedience) is instant and automatic and requires no thought or internal struggle?

I grew up in a home that was ruled by anxiety, and financial anxiety was a HUGE part of our family dynamics:  always feeling like you're living on the edge of disaster, one blow away from all the dominoes falling, one after another.  Obviously, I was marked by those eighteen years I spent in that home.  That feeling of insecurity manifested itself in grabbing and grasping and hoarding, living tight-fisted instead of open-handed.  Generosity is hard for me because at my core, my fear is that there WILL NOT BE ENOUGH.  That LACK will overtake me, consume me, and devour my life.  Theft has been like a recessive "sin gene" woven into my DNA.

And now I'm God's child, and I desire Him and His Holiness.  I desire to be used by Him.  I long to be a vessel that has been cleaned not only on the outside, but on the inside too!  I want to be refined for my Master's use.  So I do not intentionally walk in this sin.  I do not make plans to acquire things dishonestly. BUT, God sees not just my actions, but my heart.  Is there any area in my mind where I am still trading the TRUTH of God for a LIE?  At some fundamental, core, foundational level, am I believing an UNtruth?  And how would I even know this if it wasn't revealed in my actions and brought to light by my God?  Thank You, God, for revealing truth to me!

Lord, I know You are not into behavior modification.  You are into heart transformation!  Remake me into a new creature in the very basic building blocks of who I am!  I want YOUR way to be my default setting, not the place I have to fight to get to, but truly my new, redeemed nature.  Can you take me there, God?  Is that an unrealistic goal?  Can you really remake me so thoroughly, so completely, so totally, so absolutely?

With that, lecture ended, and I packed up my things, my heart and mind so full of questions.  In my next post, I will reveal how God has begun to answer some of those lingering questions.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Reconciliation of Abraham's Sons

I got a glimpse of God today as I spent time with Him in His Word, and His beauty is beyond all explanation. I have to admit, I've felt bad for Hagar and Ishmael. Today in my study and prayer time, He lifted my eyes to see His glorious plan; I find myself speechless, breathless, in awe of the GOODNESS of our God!

As I entered into communication with the Divine, my heart was burdened for the Muslim world, but I did not have the Genesis narrative and the story of Isaac and Ishmael specifically in mind. I wasn't asking Him to answer my questions; I was just praying my heart and letting the Holy Spirit lead. I praise God for His revelation; He connected the dots for me as I prayed. I will just type here the words of my prayer as I wrote them.

So I began, "Father, I pray for my Muslim brothers and sisters. You have a heart for them as well. You see them; you hear their cries. You love them. Honor their pursuit of You by opening their eyes to the truth. Send knowledge and revelation. May MANY LABORERS be sent out into the ripened fields, to gather in the souls of countless Muslims. May the blessing you gave to Abraham and Isaac be realized in our generation, that ALL the nations of the world would be blessed in and through them. How exciting to be living in the day when this promise will be fulfilled and the inclusiveness of Your great love will draw the descendants of Ishmael into the circle of promise and blessing and love. Yes, the seed (Jesus) came through Isaac, but it did not exclude Ishmael! May my eyes behold Your majesty as the sons and daughters of Ishmael AND Isaac join hands and sing the praises of Jesus. May they all find peace with God and peace with each other through the shed blood of Yeshua, the unblemished, perfect, once-for-all Passover Lamb whose sacrifice is reconciling all things to Himself!"

Oh, how Abraham's heart must have broken when he had to send Ishmael away, but how he must be leaping and dancing and celebrating and jumping for joy to see this day! Every single child was "Plan A." Every single child has a place at the table, a part in the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. Heaven will be filled with ALL of His Sons!

Wow, God, wow! I am absolutely convinced that we will NEED Eternity to sing God's praises; anything less would rob Him of the worship He is due! Only infinity can hold the fullness of every "hallelujah!" When we see Him for who He is, we are COMPELLED to worship, and anything less than forever could never bring to completion the adoration He inspires! Heaven will be the constant and ceaseless exaltation of the Goodness of our God, and I CANNOT WAIT! Luckily, I don't have to; I can begin right now, touching Heaven as I lift my hands, my heart, my voice to Yahweh! Oh, that Heaven would not be a jarring new reality for any of His believers, but a natural next step as our hearts live and die to shine a spotlight on HIS Fame! He is so so very good and so so very worthy!!!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Hope and Glory from Philippians 1:6

Oh my dear brothers and sisters!  Listen to the beauty contained in this verse:
"For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus."

Isn't that so beautiful?!?!?!  HE started the good work in us (by creating us, sending His Son into the world to die for us, and allowing us to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ).  It's HIS work not mine, and He is able and faithful and wise and loving and He will finish it!!!

That means my best days are NOT behind me.  I might look backwards at what the years have taken, lamenting what the moths and locusts have stolen.  I might look at my current circumstances and think there is no way out.  BUT this verse is telling me the opposite....to look forward with joy and anticipation because my better days--my best days---are still ahead!  I praise God because He knows what He is doing!  He has a plan and a purpose!  He knows the way out of the mess I'm entangled in, and--hallelujah--He can turn things around in a much shorter time than it took me to mess them up in the first place!  I can dance into the future with great excitement and anticipation!

I've heard it said that God is an artist, and I clearly see that.  But with me, He's been a tattoo artist.  There's one reason I've never gotten a tattoo....I'm afraid of the pain.  But that's what He's using, those needle pricks, that pain, the hurt, the hard things....the loneliness, the rejection, the difficult people in my life, the times I've been left out or wounded or taken advantage of or felt unloved or unworthy or guilty or full of shame, the broken relationships, the trials, tribulations, struggles and challenges....to unfold beauty in my life.  The hurt is essential to developing my character into exactly who I was designed to be.  Tattoos look really cool when they are done.  In the same way, I am confident....that my life in His hands can and will become a thing of beauty!!!....that the pain is a good kind of pain, that it is serving a purpose and that the final result will be something that was worth hurting for, worth waiting for!  I can't wait to see what He can and will do!  I can't wait to see the unbelievable endings to our stories!  I know we may be in a season of "ouch!" "ouch!" "ouch!" but His grace and peace are with us and surround us in the middle of that!  His promises to us will be fulfilled, and when we look back at the end of our lives, it will look as if this was all planned....because it was!!!

I have such hope because I trust the one who is leading me!  I know He's good and He is taking me somewhere special and I am thrilled to be on this journey and so longing with joy and anticipation and excitement for that final destination to be revealed! 

I just pray that you will be saturated in His love and abundance today!  May all His blessings and riches be yours in full!  May you be so filled up with His Spirit today that you simply cannot contain it, and it spills over everywhere you go!!!!!!!

Love in the one who loved us first,

Christ's Poverty, Our Riches

I received Jesus:  The One and Only yesterday and am already in week two!  I can't get enough of Him!  I am being overwhelmed by Truth as if for the very first time!

Sometimes a question in our workbook will just get me thinking in such a way that I can't let go of it; I have to stop and ponder and meditate on it.  The Holy Spirit is such an amazing teacher and brings insight and revelation that is NOT of me!

The question that halted me in my tracks today was this one:  "What does Christ's earthly poverty have to do with us?"  My mind started racing; one thought led to another.  Before I knew it, I was scribbling diagrams and getting cramps from writing as quickly and furiously as I possibly could.  

When all is said and done, it boils down to this:

Jesus existed before time began.  He enjoyed perfect fellowship within the Trinity, sharing completely in the glory of the Godhead.  Yet, He chose to leave the riches and glory of Heaven, to humble Himself and become poor.  Why?  For my sake and for your sake.  It's the "Great Switch,"  Christ's poverty making the riches of God available and accessible to me and you!  

And, oh, what a humbling!  The fullness of God was nailed to a cross by sinful men.

So, Jesus's path led from glory (pre-incarnation) to glory (post-incarnation), but was intersected by the cross.  If He had glory pre-cross, why endure the suffering to get to glory post-cross?  He could have just enjoyed and revelled in His Glory without it ever being disturbed or interrupted.  

Because--and this is where I am just dumbfounded and and in tears--somehow, to Jesus and to God the Father and to the Holy Spirit, glory post-cross is more glorious than glory pre-cross because it includes us!!!  HOW can God esteem us so highly that He would pay that kind of a price to redeem us?!?!  How can He value you and me that much?!?!?!

Oh, I am so acutely aware that I have never known an earthly love that could even come close to this all-consuming, unfathomable, fierce and passionate love of Jesus!  Oh, that I would live my life in a way that is worthy of the high price He paid to redeem me, worthy of that unfailing love, worthy of His call!  May His death never be in vain in our lives!

How thankful I am that my salvation does not in any way depend on me!  Even when I stumble, He never lets go!  Can you even imagine anything better than the moment you will enter eternity and be ushered into His Presence to hear Him whisper, "well done, good and faithful servant!"?!?!  Oh, Amen and Amen....Let it be so!  (And according to 2 Corinthians 1:20, Jesus Himself is the "YES!" and "AMEN!" of God!)  The ONE and ONLY indeed!  Nothing this life has to offer is worth missing HIM!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Reflections from Mount Moriah....Genesis 22

As I began my study of Genesis 22 today,  I started out by looking up all the verses that my Bible cross-referenced with Gen. 22:1:  "God tested Abraham."  These verses over and over again state that testing is for the benefit of the one being tested.  I asked God to help me understand how Abraham benefited from this test, and the Holy Spirit brought illumination.  I was so overwhelmed by what happened on top of Mount Moriah, and I'd love to share my thoughts with you.  I pray that you are blessed by these reflections.

Abraham's Testing

Because of Abraham's obedience, He met God in a new and powerful way on the top of Mount Moriah.  He came to know God as Jehovah-Jireh, the-Lord-will-provide.  On the mountain, He learned that there were no limits to God's provision.  Creator God, Maker and Sustainer of all living things who meets our physical needs, providing daily bread and water in dry places, is also YHWH, the Covenant God, who provides for our deepest needs as well---forgiveness, atonement, reconciliation, covering.

What happened on that mountain is such a beautiful picture of the lengths God and His own beloved, one and only child of promise, His Son, Jesus, were willing to go to redeem us!  Did Abraham get that?  I believe that He did, maybe not as clearly as we can looking back on the cross, the sacrifice having already occurred, with the gospels and New Testament to help us in our understanding. But God revealed much to Abraham on that mountain and though he may have been seeing somewhat dimly, as through a fog or a haze, I believe that HE SAW CHRIST in that ram who took Isaac's place on that altar; and he understood God's heart of love perhaps like no other ever has as they shared a common heartbreak in their giving of their one and only, beloved, cherished, obedient sons.  Abraham was motivated to give up Isaac because of his love for and faith in God, and God was motivated to give up Jesus because of His love for us (Abraham and his descendants).  

What a beautiful picture!  I don't think there is anything more beautiful in all the world!

And a love that beautiful expands...that's the nature of that love, to overflow onto others and draw them in so they too can share in Love's Beauty.  It's why married couples yearn to have children:  love is too good to keep all to yourself.  By its very definition, love has to have a beloved, an object upon which to lavish the excesses of that love.  Love requires expression.  Love includes!  It multiplies! It expands! It regenerates! It explodes! It cannot be contained!  It's a revolution! True Love changes everything!

Abraham's act of obedience and love towards God SO MOVED THE ETERNAL ONE that He responds with an Ephesians 3:20 type promise, "...blessing I will bless you and multiplying I will multiply your descendants..."  In these words, I hear the echo of the New Testament:  "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ!"  Who can even fathom "every spiritual blessing in Christ?"  The fullness of God's grace and blessing to us in Christ is definitely beyond all that we could ask, think, dream or imagine!  And I think Abraham got a sneak peek up on top of that mountain.

Oh, there are risks when we surrender to a life of faith!  We give up our rights.  We lay down our Isaacs.  We surrender control.  We forfeit comfort, laziness, excuses, blame, self-justification, and convenience.  We dethrone ourselves and give up being our own gods.  We turn our backs on the temporal and crucify our flesh.  We pay the price of obedience (and, undoubtedly, it will cost us something; frequently, it will seem to be costing us a whole heck of a lot!).

But what we get in return so far surpasses anything we might lose: 
  •  Knowing and experiencing God (He is found by those who seek Him!),
  •  Abundant life, 
  • Eternal rewards, 
  • God's favor,
  •  A "calling" (the fulfillment that comes when you discover the purpose and meaning for which you were created), 
  • Kingdom impact (fruit), 
  • Untold spiritual blessings (God is a rewarder of those who seek Him!), 
  • Rest for my soul (peace, security, satisfaction, agape love, "It is well" contentment that is independent of circumstance, assurance, abiding joy), 
  • Seeing God's glory, His Manifest Presence (Shekinah)....nothing this world has to offer is worth missing THIS!, 
  • A Godly heritage for my descendants
  • The thrilling adventure of letting God write my story
Abraham was no fool!  He is the father of the Jim Elliotts of this world, all those who follow in his footsteps and give up what they cannot keep to gain what they cannot lose.  And he is my father as well!

The faith and love Abraham demonstrated on Mount Moriah was received by God and poured back out in such amazing ways that I, born thousands and thousands of years later, have been caught in the net of that ever-increasing, ever-multiplying, ever-expanding, ever-widening explosion of perfect, complete love that defies explanation or understanding.  My attempts to put words to this truth are doomed to failure because it is so beyond human language.  It seems to me in this moment that our universe is expanding because God's love is actively and continually expanding as each new son or daughter comes to faith and reconnects with the God who has yearned for him or her since before time began!

All of us who have been touched by this Mount Moriah love must, in turn, lay our own Isaacs down.  Yes, just as surely as the test was for Abraham's own good, it is for our own good as well.  Because it is only when we stand before Him with empty hands that we are able to truly experience His grace.  He fills those who empty themselves in order that He might indwell them.  He will not leave you empty.  He will come, and He will fill, and you will understand the poverty of anything you held in your hands before this moment.  Our Isaacs will look different for each of us, but oh, that we would NOT CLING TO what God has asked us to surrender because there is GLORY on the other side of our sacrifice!

Why was I chosen?  Why were my eyes opened?  Why am I so privileged to be counted among the descendants of Abraham?  The only answer I find is this:  "God Almighty has set His affections upon me."  I cannot stop the tears from falling as I meditate on this truth.  I don't understand.  I don't know what He could have seen in me that would cause Him to love me so!  Me?  With a heart as dark as mine?  A pit dweller like me?  But there is no explanation; only that He loves because HE IS LOVE!  And I'm melted by that love, and the only possible response to a love like that is to love Him in return with my entire heart, soul, mind and strength!

"Father, every day, remove another scale from my eyes so I can see you more clearly and experience more fully Your heart of love.  And, every day, grow my heart a little more so I can love You more passionately, with more zeal, more whole-heartedly, more completely, more devotedly.  Because You are worth it.  You are worth it, God!"

The law did not change my heart.  But what the law could not accomplish, Jesus did.  He took my heart of stone and replaced it with a heart of flesh!  It is a MIRACLE what He has done in my heart and life!  It's not a miracle like the world is looking for because it's internal instead of external, but that IS God's priority under the New Covenant:  the heart, the internal.  And I can tell you without a doubt that the change He has brought about in my life, the transformation I've experienced because of His Touch rivals any Red Sea parting or manna raining from the sky!

"OH, Praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead!"

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I Am Sarah....Meditations on Genesis 18

Since September, I have been studying the book of Genesis in-depth.  It never ceases to amaze me how these words that were recorded thousands of years ago can still speak into my life with such power and applicability!  And, boy, has God been speaking!  I am so thankful for His Word that is alive and active and sharper than a two-edged sword!  I need Him and His truth to cut away those parts of me that are not pleasing to Him and re-member me, making me whole again according to His original design for my life!

This week, as I meditated on Genesis 18 and the life of Sarah, I found so many similarities to my own life.  Let me explain....we know that many of the commands and blessings given under the Old Covenant have a spiritual application for us under the New Covenant.  For example, the command to be fruitful and multiply was a physical command to procreate and fill the earth.  We see this paralleled in a spiritual context in the New Testament when Jesus commanded his followers to "...go and make disciples of all nations..." (the Great Commission).  As it was with the command, so it is with the promise.  For Sarah, the promise was for the physical fruit of her womb.  For us (New Testament believers), the promise is for spiritual fruit bearing (John 15).

Just as Sarah was utterly incapable of producing a son on her own, I too am utterly incapable of bearing spiritual fruit on my own.  She could look at her body and see nothing but wrinkles, old age, barrenness, and a reproductive system that was long past menopause.  How can this old, worn-out flesh possibly bring forth new life?

Oh, how I identify with her!  I look at myself and ask God, "How can you bring forth anything eternal from my life?  Me?  With this root of contempt that still lingers?  With this tongue that is so quick to retort in the flesh instead of responding in the spirit?  With my Pharisee heart?  With my tendency to judge?  With this ugly pride that continues to rise up in me?"  And just as Sarah's womb was dried up, I feel like the well of my love has run dry!  Oh, Paul's lament is mine as well, "I do the things I don't want to do, and I don't do the things I want to do." (Romans 7)

Only with faith eyes could I ever possibly look at my life and BELIEVE that anything eternal (anything of Kingdom Impact) could come from my time upon this earth.  Without God, the chance of me bearing fruit isn't just one in a million; it's zero in infinity!  But with God, all things are possible!  The One who has made the promise is faithful.  He will do exactly as He says.

I am Sarah.  And my God has chosen me as His own.  Because of His great and lavish love, He adopted me into His family, redeeming my life from the pit and making me a trophy of His grace!  HE is doing the good work in me.  HE is the Author of my story!  He wrote my story before He ever created this world, and it's a good story, filled with good works which were prepared by Him for me personally and individually, tailor-made for my exact design and blueprint before the foundations of this earth were laid!  And the Author of this story won't quit halfway through.  Human authors may abandon their novels and leave them undone and unfinished, but the Lord never abandons His because when He's writing my story, He's actually writing His Story!  I am not living a Kristy-story.  I am living a God-story.  I am one of the ways He reveals Himself in this world.  I am an expression of the Divine.  My life is meant to reveal a facet of HIM!  And would He give up on Himself?  Never!  No, not ever!  It is to the Father's glory that our lives bear much fruit!  He is jealous FOR us because He is jealous for His Glory!  Never fear...as unlikely as it may seem to human eyes, we who are in Christ will SHINE  with the light and the beauty of our God if and when we abide in HIM!