Wednesday, November 16, 2016

a challenge

Starting this week, I am going through 25 days of readings focused on the advent season, a season which celebrates the coming of the Messiah. The first readings have taken me back to the Old Testament, where, from the very beginning, it is clear that Jesus has eternally existed as God's plan of redemption for mankind. The basics of the Gospel - that God created man in His image, yet man is engulfed in sorrow and hopelessness because of sin (Isaiah 59:2), and sin carries with it necessary judgement (Leviticus 17:11, Hebrews 9:22), that because of His great love for His creation, God provides a way of atonement for sin and access to God through His Son, Jesus, who is the perfect and final sin sacrifice (Isaiah 53:7, John 1:29), and even beyond all that, God holds His people close to him, fulfilling His promises, and causing "all things to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28, Genesis 50:20) - are present from Genesis onward.

This is the gospel. This is THE GOSPEL. 

I have never been one to "follow" popular Christian writers/bloggers/speakers. I think I was just born at the right time; back before social media and online blogs and huge Christian conferences were televised and streaming live (and yes, I appreciate the irony of my writing this in a blog post). Combine that with the fact that since He saved me, God embedded in me a love for His Word and allowed me to be raised among believers who were committed to "accurately handling the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15) and it makes sense that over time, I have found my interest in these other writers' opinions waning. My limited time to read and study goes to simple study of the Bible itself, rather than reading "books about the Book" as my Idaho pastor would say. I know there are many who will immediately feel the need to defend these other books, because they have been encouraged or uplifted by what these writers have said. While I am sure there are nuggets of truth in any writing based even loosely on the Bible, no other writing holds the authority that true Scripture does. In Colossians, Paul warns believers not to be led astray by "philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8). Those believers were being inundated with the teachings of Judaizers and philosophies of the Gnostics, losing hold of their grasp of the supremacy of Jesus Christ and His message. They needed the warning and challenge from Paul to lay aside what they were hearing from these people who sounded so convincing and focus instead on the One who saved them. We need the same warning and challenge. 

When Christian leaders start teaching a gospel contrary to the Word of God, it is time to let go. It is not time to excuse the behavior, to try to justify their intentions or find the few nuggets of truth that may still be lurking behind the lies. It is time to separate ourselves from the falsehood and cling to the Truth. This is the challenge I am putting to all of us today - let go of these teachers and bloggers and writers who deny THE GOSPEL and turn again to the Word alone. It is absolutely enough. 

As he was preparing to die, the apostle Paul wrote one final letter. The fact that these words are the ones he chose to be his last strikes me with profound conviction, sadness and urgency for the state of modern Christians:

"I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he comes to set up his Kingdom: Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke and encourage your people with good teaching. For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don't be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you." (2 Timothy 4:1-5, NLT). 

We don't have Judaizers and Gnostics knocking at our door; we have a multitude of bloggers and authors and speakers all trying to convince us that their version of the truth is correct. Some may be wonderful, but the only way we will be able to separate the good teachers from the wolves in sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15) is to truly know the Word of God ourselves, to know the Gospel as taught in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, and to be committed to it, so that we can present ourselves approved to God, unashamed workmen who accurately handle the word of truth. 

Beware, my fellow believers. Do not be led astray; cling to the only Truth you can always trust. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

sorting

So again, it's been over a year since my last post. Apparently blogging is not a reliable form of communication for me. We'll see if 2016 is any different.

Over the last year, we moved from Europe to Florida, said goodbye to dear friends and set out to make new ones, traveled all the way across the states with a toddler, battled jet-lag, teething, and our own selfishness, and went on a church hunt for the fourth time in eight years. We also became homeowners again, and I'd forgotten how stressful it is to be solely responsible for all of the things that go wrong with property. Kudos to all of those landlords out there - it is not for me.

In all of this transition, there's one word that seems to come around again and again for me: sorting. We've been sorting through our lives for a year. Separating the important things from the unimportant, the meaningful from the unneccesary, the true from the false, the holy from the unholy. We've packed boxes, made countless trips to thrift stores, sold things can no longer use or store, put away baby items that my growing-way-too-fast toddler doesn't need anymore, and tried to put our beautiful filing cabinets to good use. But we've also sorted through some of the internal chaos and noise in our lives, endeavoring to get to a more peaceful place. We've addressed the need for boundaries in social media, taken a close look at what entertainment fills our home and minds, drawn lines around family time together, and considered how to serve in our church and community without violating the balance we so desire. It hasn't been simple or pain-free; there have been tears, words spoken in anger and frustration, and desperate prayers for strength and clarity.

This morning, I read something that resonates with this theme of sorting through life this year:

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, 
there is disorder and every evil thing. 
But the wisdom from above is first pure, 
then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, 
full of mercy and good fruits,unwavering, 
without hypocrisy.
James 3:16-17, NASB

And so my prayer for 2016 will be to continue this task of sorting through life, to have a fuller understanding of the wisdom from above, and to rejoice that we don't do any of this without the strength of the Lord.  And maybe that I can be a more committed blogger. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Reflections on 2014


 So it's been a whole year since I last posted anything here.  Apparently, having a baby took a toll on my blogging time.  

Our little love is 8 months old today; I can hardly believe it. When I look back over the last year, much of it is hazy - probably a blessing from the Lord, really. Having a new baby is a huge challenge, filled with difficult adjustments, and if  I could remember all of them, we'd probably never do this again. 

The general thing that comes to mind when I consider the last year is that through everything, God has gently reminded me of His faithfulness and love. Gently. Through colic, breastfeeding strikes, too-short naps, teething and all the rest, He has offered little reminders - our boy is a precious gift, I was meant to be his mother, each day is a new day and His love is never-ending.  

While our lives are forever changed and we embark on this new season as a family of three, I want to write down the things that have been constantly grounding. It's the way things go, right? Like the Israelites, we go through a desert and God's faithfulness abounds, and then once we're through the dry heat and into the Promised Land, we forget about the presence of the Lord and the need to draw near to Him daily.  

I am starting 2015 in the rest of my Savior, rejoicing in His faithfulness and looking forward to the year.... thank you, Jesus, for these messages: 

  • "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:22-23) 
  • Bless the Lord, O my soul/ O my soul/ Worship His holy name/ Sing like never before/ O my soul I'll worship Your holy name/ The sun comes up, it's a new day dawning/ It's time to sing Your song again/ Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me/ Let me be singing when the evening comes - (10,000 Reasons, Matt Redman) 
  • "This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm 118:24) 

I am so thankful for my beautiful family and will continue to thank God for each day, no matter the circumstances. He is at work, so I can have peace.   


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Reflections on 2013


January has been a big month for me. I turned 31 years old, and I rounded the halfway mark of my second trimester. I’m officially on the downhill slope towards another major life change.

As I reflect on the last year, a few things have stuck out in my mind as worth holding onto…

1.       Age truly is “just a number” as they say. I can’t believe I’m in my thirties… until I hang out with people in their twenties, and then I’m thankful to be in a different place. I’m sure when 40 comes, I’ll be thankful for that, too.

2.       Enjoying the moment, wherever you are, takes effort. We’ve all heard the charge to “carpe diem,” and living in Europe temporarily, I feel like it might as well be a flag pretty much every American waves. It’s generally good advice – why waste the opportunity to see so much of a different world relatively cheaply during your tour? The thing no one mentions is that after a while, hearing it gets reeeaaaalllly old. I don’t think anyone sets out to NOT seize the day, but wherever you go, life follows you. We all have responsibilities and obligations, sick days and grumpy days. We’re still sinful humanity, even if we live in a picturesque German village. Sometimes “carpe diem” just means that you say a prayer of thanksgiving, take the dog on a walk, attempt some German with your neighbor, and make your husband dinner. It doesn’t always mean jumping on a train and going somewhere new for the weekend. I really believe that seizing the day just means you make a choice about how you will treat the day – with or without a spirit of contentment.

3.       We choose how we react to our circumstances. This is something that has come to me repeatedly since I got pregnant. I was shocked to discover that, as I shared the news with the people in my life, so many people were quick to follow their congratulations with what can only be described as ominous warnings. Warnings about the morning sickness. Warnings about the fatigue. Warnings about the bloating and the diarrhea and the acne and the food aversions and the weight gain and the swelling and the heartburn and the restless sleep and the baby encroaching on vital organs… and it didn’t stop there… when they stopped to think about what they could “share” with me about motherhood, all too often something like “get ready to say goodbye to a good night’s sleep” or “you’ll never sleep again” or “you’ll never know real anxiety until you have a child” pops out of their mouths. I felt like I was inundated with total negativity directed at my unborn baby. Like the big secret of motherhood is that it sucks. I know it wasn’t their intention, but these women were essentially encouraging me to hate on my pregnancy and future infant. What a way to spend a couple of years – full of resentment towards this little being God is creating inside of me. Well, I am not interested in that kind of “advice.” My husband and I spent a year praying that God would give us this little one, and we continue to pray for him daily. He is already an answer to prayer; I am choosing to be thankful. I may have a day of moaning about being uncomfortable, but the nausea, fatigue, acne, heartburn and weird pains are all signs that God is doing this incredible thing in my body. So when I notice my eyebrows are falling out (weird, right?),  or I’m getting up for the 17th time in the middle of the night to pee, I am choosing to thank God for this little life and praying for his heart and growth.    

4.       Embrace change. When my husband was on his year-long deployment, I found a bracelet at an art fair that had a charm with this statement on it. I loved it instantly, because I feel like this continues to be a refrain in my life. Life is dynamic, in constant motion, and I can choose to go with it in joy and thanksgiving, or dig my heels in and resist with an attitude of resentment.  Embrace change.

The last year was a good one. God’s love was evident in all things, something for which I am ever thankful. I am confident that this year will hold the same blessing.

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NASB)


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Reflections on Deliverance

“The Lord is high above all nations; His glory is above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, who is enthroned on high, who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of His people.” (Psalm 113:4-7, NASB).
*****

Last month, I read a book called The Earth is Full by B.D. Riehl. I don’t spend a lot of time reading Christian fiction these days, but I’m glad I took the time to read this. The story deals with themes of hope and deliverance, two subjects worthy of some consideration.

Riehl develops four main characters throughout the book, each with her own story of oppression (whether imposed by others or self), that the readers follow. Three of the characters are everyday women in varying stages of life, dealing with oppression that is relatively common in first world Christian nations: peer pressure, dissatisfaction with life stages, failing marriages, rebellious children, comparing ourselves to those around us, expecting perfection and failing at every turn. The fourth main character is a young Thai girl sold into the sex-slave trade in Thailand, whose oppressors and experiences are far removed from anything a Western Christian can fully understand. In each character’s story line, we see these women each experience some form of deliverance from their oppression and hope for the future. Some characters’ stories are more well-developed than others, but the honest truth is that by the end of the book, I was left pondering deliverance and hope in my own life.

One of the best parts in the book is in the story of the young Thai girl, Suchin, trapped in slavery. She is sold by her mother in the hopes of providing a better life for her daughter, a hope which is tragically smothered in the first moments of Suchin’s experience with her new employers. Her story will tug at your heartstrings and, at the very least, bring you to your knees in prayer for the thousands of young girls caught up in sex-trafficking around the world. Thankfully, Rhiel is not overly descriptive about the horrors of Suchin’s life in captivity; much is left to the reader’s imagination, which is certainly enough. The moment that struck me, however, was when a group of missionaries whose mission is to save girls from the sex trade approach Suchin and ask if she wants to be free. The question is simple, though astounding to this young captive. “All you need to say is ‘yes’,” they tell her, and everything about your life will change. It takes a few approaches and Suchin’s life worsening to a whole new level of desperation before she is able to hope enough to say yes to these people offering her a new life. Even now, as I remember this storyline, tears fill my eyes as I think of how heartbreakingly similar that experience is to my own.

I’ve never been a sex-slave. I’ve lived a charmed, safe, spoiled life as an American Christian. And yet, I have been a captive. I have been oppressed by sin to the point of deep depression and hopelessness. And Jesus offers such beautiful, free deliverance – all I need to say is “yes,” and my life will be forever changed. How often, though, have I resisted the proffered help from the Lord, the hand up out of the miry clay and instead stubbornly clung to the muck and decay of my sinful life? How often did my circumstances have to get worse before I let myself believe that God had something better for me? The truth is, Suchin’s character is both a representative for all of the young girls literally trapped in sexual slavery and a symbol of every person trapped in a life without Jesus. Her hopelessness and life marked with depravity is the same darkness in which I once lived, before I came to know “that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance” (Philippians 1:9, NIV). Because of Jesus, I can now confidently say, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance” (Psalm 32:7, NIV). Now, this does not mean that after being saved, I will have no trouble in my life. It does mean that I will be protected from it; trouble will not overcome me or take me from the hope in which I now live. The darkness may threaten me again, but it will not overtake me, because I have the protection of the Holy Lord now. I will not give in to despair, because my hope is in the help of God’s presence (Psalm 42:5).

It will be interesting to see what Riehl does with these characters in the next book of the series; how will they continually grow in the hope of the Lord? Will they find themselves again in despair, having forgotten all that God provided? Will they really embrace the truth of God’s deliverance? Will I?

Will you?


*****

If you’re interested in reading the book, you can find it here: The Earth is Full by B.D. Riehl


If you’re interested in more about helping the children taken by the sex-trade, check out Destiny Rescue

Friday, July 26, 2013

Reflections on Truth

The truth. This word, this concept has been sparking debates for ages. What is truth? What is THE truth? How can we know? Why does man search for it so ardently? We need the truth to ground us, to give us a point of reference from which to order our lives, like an anchor. Without the truth, we are left to be swept to and fro by waves and winds of life with no hope for really knowing where we are or where we are heading. It is how we come to ascribe meaning and purpose in life. 

Famous names throughout history and throughout the world have had something to say about the truth – Buddha, Ghandi, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., and pretty much anyone who has written even the tiniest bit of philosophical musings in an Intro to Philosophy class. But maybe you’re not scouring dusty books on politics or philosophy for the truth… maybe the truth of the world finds its way into your life through more common means: the thoughts of your family members, friends and coworkers, movies and TV shows you watch, or the news media.  The problem is, there are as many sources of “truth” as there are people on this earth.  

As Christians, followers of Christ, we fundamentally believe and accept that the Bible is the infallible Word of God. In Galatians, Paul makes several references to “the truth of the Gospel.” In the NT, the word “truth” is “aletheia” (a-lay-thay-uh), which refers to the “truth in reality and in fact; the true notions of God which are open to human reason WITHOUT his supernatural intervention; that sincerity of mind which FREE from affection, pretense, simulation, falsehood and deceit.”  It is objective, REAL, knowable to everyone.

Matthew 22:16 says the Pharisees recognized that Jesus taught according to the truth, even as they tried to trap him in his honesty: “We know that you are a truthful and that you teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not partial.”

John teaches that “truth came through Jesus Christ,” and Jesus then says that He IS “the way, the TRUTH, and the life.” (John 1:17 and 14:6).

In the Old Testament, “truth” comes from the word “Aman” (Ah-man), meaning “to support, confirm, be faithful, uphold and nourish, as with foster parents…” Hebrew is a language of images and metaphors, which is why a definition including the image of foster parents is powerful.  In Jewish culture, an adopted son is as good as a natural son; there is no distinction made in genealogical charts. And adopted son could not be disowned.  This helps us understand that there is a PERMANENCE and RELIABILITY to truth. It is NOT relative, dependent on outside circumstances or mood; it is a SURE thing.

Truth is related to belief and faith. It is used in Genesis 15:6 about Abraham, “then he believed in the Lord, and He reckoned it to Him as righteousness.” It describes the law of God, “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Ps 19:7). It describes the belief man has, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps 27:13).

In just these few verses we can see that THE TRUTH comes from Jesus and IS Jesus,  is impartial, unwavering and doesn’t change according to opposing opinions, it is SURE and brings wisdom, righteousness and alleviates despair.

So how can we know if what we are believing is THE Truth or a worldly distortion of the truth?

Take a look at the fruit of your life. A life oriented to THE truth is characterized by joy, peace, confidence, patience and kindness. A life oriented to the world’s truth is characterized by anxiety, depression, and anger, full of dysfunction, disorder and distress.  

If our lives are characterized by stress, depression, anger and strife, how can we change that?

First, walk yourself through this exercise –
1) Identify your feeling. (depressed)
2) Ask yourself what beliefs you're holding that are promoting this feeling. (I am unlovable)
3) Ask yourself if that belief is Biblically true. If it is not, identify the Biblical truth. (God loves me)
4) Find the scripture that supports the Biblical truth, and write it on your heart, meditate on it day and night. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, by setting your mind on things above. (Zephaniah 3:17 The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. 1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. Romans 8:37-39 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.)

Second, don't trust that your feelings are telling you the truth. Feelings are fleeting and easily changed. They are affected by hormones, food intake, exercise, circumstances... our feelings are unreliable.

Third, practice expectation management. You are a fallible human being living in a fallen world. Part of living the truth is accepting that you will not live a perfect life outside of heaven. Instead of being obsessive about perfection, accept the truth of who God is FOR YOU ( Psalm 30:5). Faith in the truth is SANCTIFYING (2 Thess. 2:13). So relax, and experience the peace that comes from living a life according to the Truth. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Reflections on God's Promises

In my devotional this morning, I read these words:

Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the LORD commanded him. Then all the people answered together and said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do." (Exodus 19:7-8)

It made me stop and consider all of the times I’ve said the same thing… after how many poignant sermons, powerful worship nights or refreshing quiet times with the Lord have I fervently felt the power of His spirit and said, “All that the Lord has spoken, I will do”? In those moments, I have the purest and most sincere intentions, and yet, inevitably, I soon find myself back in the flesh, struggling against sin and the lies of this world.

Confession: I struggle with needing the approval of others to feel satisfied with who I am. I tend to feel happiest when I am needed, appreciated, wanted and useful. Since Christ called me, I have felt the battle between seeking the pleasure of man and seeking the pleasure of God. I am familiar with the temptation to measure my worth according to distorted standards of value. And I am unfortunately intimate with the sense of failure that comes from the constant realization that I just don’t measure up, the despite the desperate need I may feel to be outwardly approved of by the people around me, I always, always fall short. I find myself trapped in legalistic thinking, running down lists of “shoulds” that, while originating from Biblical truth, fail to capture the real spirit of what Jesus desires for His children. It is this constant struggle with sin that made my devotion this morning so perfect:

The promises of the old covenant of law depend upon the performance of man. "You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them" (Leviticus 18:5). The better promises of the new covenant of grace depend upon the performance of God. "I will make a new covenant…I will put My law in their minds"(Jeremiah 31:3133).
When man attempts to live under the law (thereby needing to perform up to God's standards by human resources), he typically tries to live by his promises to God. Israel was a vivid example of this futile tendency. "All that the LORD has spoken we will do." This well-intended promise to God was consistently broken. Moses' words are a stinging indictment of the vanity of basing life with God on our promises to Him. "You have been rebellious against the LORD from the day that I knew you" (Deuteronomy 9:24).

It is a simple truth, that I have been rebellious against the Lord from day one. The sin of my flesh actively rebels against the Spirit of God within me. And yet, it takes some real heart-work to accept that even though I belong to Jesus, this is still a reality in my life. As long as I am in this world, I will experience the war between Spirit and flesh. And the Type-A, control-freak, perfectionist in me immediately tries to make it an effort of my own will and strength, a goal to be achieved. It’s no wonder I find myself discouraged and disheartened when I live like that. These words were perhaps the most meaningful to me this morning:

The desire to obey God resides appropriately within the hearts of His children. However, we must find a better way to obedience than relying upon our promises to God. That better way is the path of grace, which offers a life based upon God's promises to man"I will give you a new heart and [I will] put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and [I will] give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and [I will] cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them" (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
We are to live in dependence upon the promises of God to us (instead of relying upon our promises to Him). Living by God's promises produces a growing confidence in the Lord, a confidence that results from His unique character. "God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?" (Numbers 23:19). Man may make promises to God, but, eventually, he will fail. God is not like man. God is true to His word. He will not lie, nor will He change His mind. Whatever He says, He will do! We can fully rely upon the promises of God that we find in His word.*

Thank you, Jesus, for being infallible, faithful, wise and gentle with me, your weak and misguided child. Thank you for reminding me of your power and sovereignty, and the grace with which you deal with me in this life. Let this truth you have written on my mind be ever-present and close during these seasons of wilting devotion and temporal perspective. Forgive my efforts to take control, to “do” Christianity as a way to earn approval. Help me to rest in YOUR love and YOUR promises…


Amen.



*Devotion from Day by Day By Grace by Bob Hoekstra.