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.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Reflections on Influence

I've been thinking about an old favorite verse lately... "Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life" (Proverbs 4:23, NLT). As far as I can remember, this verse has been referenced in support of avoiding negative influences that might lead to sin. Don't watch rated R movies, don't listen to music with hyper-sexual content, don't hang out with people who only watch or listen to said movies and music. And then later, when the possibility of dating became a reality, it was don't let yourself get too emotionally attached, don't share too many intimate details, don't let yourself fall in love at such a young age. Guard your heart.

It's not that these exhortations didn't have merit. I can honestly say that while I was not a super rebellious teenager by any stretch of the imagination, the heartache I experienced and the patterns of sin that followed me into adulthood could have at least been lessened if I'd been a little more vigilant about guarding my heart from some negative influences.

However.

While negative influences certainly need to be guarded against, what about the "positive" influences? Consider how many positive influences you have in your own life: parents, spouses, friends, other family, pastors, Bible study leaders and other members, maybe a counselor or professors, not to mention the books you're reading or podcasts you listen to... maybe we can add John MacArthur, Beth Moore, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Francis Chan, Kelli Minter, and more to that list of positive influences in your life. They're all speaking truth, teaching the Word of God, doing their best to "minister" to the community of believers. But at what point does this become too much of a good thing?

If you are the kind of person who finds themselves caught up in "shoulds," there might be a different lesson in this verse for you. When you allow so many people to speak into your life with their versions of Scripture and Scriptural truth, you may find yourself overwhelmed with the way Christianity "should" look; inevitably, not quite like it does in your life. If you allow so many people to "should" on you, you find yourself anxious, depressed, and exhausted. Now what?

Guard your heart. Not only from the negative influences, but from too many positive influences as well. Choose a few trusted individuals to speak into your life, and keep that boundary. The more times you repeat your troubles, (even in the form of a prayer request), the more you dwell on them. Maybe limit yourself to one spiritual book/podcast at a time, allowing yourself the chance to actually enjoy what you read or hear, and process it. And above all else, don't forget that YOU have access to the Lord yourself. YOU can open your Bible and be taught by the Holy Spirit who dwells in you. You don't have to rely on the input of others to live in a manner worthy of the calling of Christ; Christ in you is absolutely enough. He will accomplish the good work He started in you, with or without John Piper (no offense, John). Whittle down the list of positive influences, and lean on the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might...

In the words of my sixth grade Home Ec teacher, "Too much of a good thing is still TOO MUCH."


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Reflections on the "Doing"

I can't believe it's been almost a year since I last posted. And it's been just over a year since my husband returned from his 365-day deployment. And I can't believe how much has happened in that year.

We reunited, we traveled, we worked, we said goodbyes, we moved, we set up a new home, we made new friends, we found a church body, we started new work and we spent time developing hobbies. And hopefully, in all of it, we have remembered to praise the Lord.

I am convicted about how I use my time. When we first got to Germany, I remember discussing our prayer requests with some dear friends... there were the typical things: prayer for work, family, and health, but I also felt like I needed some Divine help in deciding how to spend my time. When I look back on all we've "done" in the last year, I have to ask myself, "What is the eternal significance of all of this?" In the grand scheme of things, how much does my hobby as a photographer matter, if I'm not somehow glorifying God? And if I leave God out of therapy, what kind of real help do I offer my clients? Or what do all of our memories traveling around Europe mean, if we leave God behind? It is too easy to forget our Creator and Savior when life is busy and there is so much to do. We don't want to feel lazy, so we fill our schedules with jobs and chores and ministries. We make ourselves look good (and perhaps feel good) by bragging of our accomplishments on Facebook, or discussing our massive to-do lists with friends, comparing notes and commiserating over shared exhaustion. We even convince ourselves that this busy-ness and focus on productivity is godly by quoting from Proverbs 31, the passage on a "woman of noble character," who seems to be the busiest person in all of Scripture.

At the end of the day, we want to be proud, and we want to see the fruit of our labors. We want to see a tidy home, and happy husband, photo albums and picture frames full of awesome memories, and we want to feel some sense of satisfaction looking at it all. But I find that, when I work so tirelessly at completing my list simply for the sake of my list, I don't feel satisfied; I feel drained. My home may be tidy, clients making progress, husband happy and photo albums full, but my heart is not satisfied. These are not the fruits that bring a sense of rest in the Lord.

Bob Hoekstra puts it so much better than I could, as he addresses the kind of eternally significant fruit that I believe really DOES offer a sense of satisfaction and rest in its bearers:


The Lord wants His children to have significant measures of spiritual fruit developing in their lives. "By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit" (John 15:8). Fruit is described in the Scriptures in various ways. It includes godly character qualities. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…" (Galatians 5:22). Also, it involves worship offered to God. "Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name" (Hebrews 13:15). Additionally, it encompasses lives being touched by our ministry to them. "I often planned to come to you…that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles" (Romans 1:13).
Such spiritual fruit is a consequence of God's grace at work in and through us. (Colossians 1:5-6) addresses this fact. "The word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you…is bringing forth fruit."The good news of Jesus Christ not only brings forgiveness of sin and the gift of eternal life, it also produces fruit in those who believe. All of this is grace operating in trusting hearts: "Since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth." Hoekstra, Bob. "Grace and Spiritual Fruit," Day By Day By Grace. Blue Letter Bible. 19 Mar 2004. 10 Feb 2013 
Can I trust that God will grow and bear His fruit in my life, and all I need to do is be still enough to hear His direction and heed it?  Can I allow myself to slow down, to stop planning and making lists and doing long enough to hear what God would have me do, where He would have me spend my time? And then, in all of the things God may place before me to do, can I "continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of [my] lips, giving thanks to His name" (Hebrews 13:15)? Because that, I believe, is the crux of it all... the real fruit that comes straight from the source of the Heavenly Vine... the fruit of our lips, praising Jesus.

So I am moving into another year, one that will most likely also be busy and eventful. But this time, I'm making it my prayer to be intentional to praise my Jesus, to seek His guidance before I fill my schedule with what I think should be done, and to find my satisfaction His grace and sovereignty.