Sunday, May 15, 2016

All the small things

I have rheumatoid arthritis.  It's in my hands, feet, and it is especially annoyingly painful in my lower back.  Many people don't know this about me, although I don't really try to hide it.  In part, it's because I don't want to be known by my disease.  It's also because I am fairly tough and most of the time I just power through.  But none of that is what I want to tell y'all today.

I have several friends, and even family members, who have chronic ailments.  I've prayed for healing for them, I've seen healing take place in some of them, and I do believe that God can and will heal (whether it's on this side of heaven or not is all in His will).  But I don't pray for healing for myself.  I don't even think about it.  I realized that this morning as we stood in church and pastor Lynn asked people who needed healing to come forward.  I don't think of myself as a chronic sufferer and I don't think of myself as needing healing.  And then my husband grabbed my hand and pulled me forward and asked the elders to pray over me.  As a friend anointed me with oil and said, "I had no idea you had RA," it occurred to me exactly why it is that I don't pray for healing for myself.  I'm not important enough to matter.

"But wait," the spirit I've asked to live in me said, "I made you the most important thing in the world to me."  That whisper in my soul resounded in my head and heart with a shout, telling me that if I am not important, then what was Jesus' sacrifice for?!  If I'm not important, then I'm trampling on His love for me and His value in me.  How dare I think I'm not important enough and not worth considering for healing?!  If Jesus died for me, for my sins, for my healing (albeit spiritual or physical) then who am I to reject his sacrifice because of my own feelings of unworthiness?  And so, as I stood there with friends and loved ones praying over me, I felt something else; spiritual healing.

Y'all, I can't be the only person who thinks this way.  Do you feel like your issues are too small or too unimportant for God to deal with?  I mean, He has bigger issues to deal with, right?  Like world peace, starving children, etc., etc.  Here's something that God has been trying to prove to me for a while now in other ways- He cares about the small stuff.  This past Friday I was shopping for clothing for my teenagers who are growing just way too quickly.  I've been thinking about getting a new pair of a specific kind of shoe and just kind of waiting to find that "right" pair.  I walked into the re-sale shop and I'll be darned if the exact same pair of shoes I already owned wasn't sitting all shiny and brand-new looking on the shelf (as opposed to the busted up and falling apart ones currently on my feet).  It's not like I was praying for new flip-flops.  But God knows our thoughts and the desires of our hearts (small and large).  And here these flip-flops were.  As if that wasn't enough, the next morning I was driving past a certain house with a #BTR sign in the front yard (a specific slogan from our church which stands for Bring The Rain) and wondering who lived there, also thinking about how we haven't had any service calls on that specific street yet.  Guess who called me that same day needing my awesome appliance-repairing guru husband?  Yep, the sweet woman who lives in that exact house.  It was like God was saying to me, "Do you get it yet?"  So obviously, (and these are just a couple of examples out of quite a number of them) God has been trying to point out to me that he cares and that the things I think about, feel, do, say, etc., are important to Him, no matter how small.  So why on earth would the fact that I am suffering from a debilitating and chronic disease not be important to Him?  Ok, God, point taken.  I am finally hearing you. 

I may never be healed of rheumatoid arthritis while I live on this earth.  I may suffer with it and struggle some days.  But I'm still going to ask and seek that healing.  Jesus said I was worth it.   I choose to believe Him because I know His word to be true.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

One Word for 2016

Several years ago, a friend of mine told me about how she prayed about a one-word theme for her new year rather than creating a New Year's Resolution.  The idea appealed to me because I've never been great at following through on resolutions, but words... words I can do!  I was interested to see what kind of word God would provide for me.  The first New Year word I ever received was "discernment."  I'll be darned if it wasn't just what I needed to practice that year.

This is a tradition I've committed to every year since then.  I don't always have my word on New Year's Day.  In fact, more often, I don't receive my word until later in the month.  On occasion it has even taken as long as two months to be revealed.  This year, as I was sitting in church this past Sunday morning, my word drifted into my soul and was so immediately incredible I sat up straighter in my pew.  My word for the year: intentional.

Intentional?  Well that just had to come from God because He knows I wouldn't put a word like that on myself.  As I was sitting there, moments after realizing my word for the year, immediately God started speaking to me about it.  He told me I need to be more intentional in my prayer life- I need to pray more specific prayers and at more specified times.  Um, ok.  Guess that means the empty prayer journal on my bedside table is going to start filling up.  Then, he told me that I need to be more intentional in my actions.  Wow.  And, ouch.  If that didn't step on my toes...  If you know me, you know that I tend to go with the flow and whatever comes my way is what I end up doing.  I'm a fly by the seat of my pants type of Jesus girl.  Sure, I plan stuff and follow through, but I'm not a very thorough and organized planner.  I can be, however, I don't practice it.  God told me that my actions mean something; the things I do matter, and therefore, they need to be more intentional.  I have to put more thought into the things I do.  Y'all, this is good stuff.  I could not make this up.  It is all God.  And I'm excited and a little freaked out about where this intentional word is going to lead me.

And so, dear reader, where does this leave you?  Have you heard your word for the year?  Do you like the idea of having a theme rather than a resolution which will be forgotten by mid-February?  Tell me what your word is for the year and tell me what you think it's going to mean for your 2016.  Let's hold each other accountable for staying connected to our words and thereby growing closer to Jesus this year!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Following Your Heart

I hear people say "follow your heart" all the time. I see beautifully made pictures on Facebook with that quote, and I see well-meaning people give that piece of advice to struggling friends. Follow your heart. It sounds so simple and it would make life so much simpler if we could just decide to follow our hearts. I'd love to follow my heart and do whatever I felt like doing! It presents itself as an ideal solution to our own happiness. But beware those sugary sweet words of advice; they'll end up tasting sour as vinegar.

The problem with following our hearts is that our hearts are deceitful. Jeremiah 17:9 says "The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" Our hearts lie. We look inside ourselves and we think we know what we want and/or need, but it's not the truth. God knows what we need, his plan is sovereign, and always for our good (Jeremiah 29:11). Jeremiah says we don't even know how bad our own hearts are. Think about that for a minute-- our hearts are deceiving us already and we're blinded to the fact that they are deceiving us, so we can't even understand how bad our own desires are! I'm not saying that everything we want or desire for ourselves is bad, but we are inherently selfish beings and we don't ultimately know what is best for us. Because our hearts are deceitful, it is vital to pray for God's leading and his wisdom in our lives. We have to be discerning about whether we are following our own hearts or listening to the leading of the Holy Spirit whispering to our hearts. When we are open to being obedient to God's voice in our lives, it is truly amazing how our own wills are brought into alignment with his. We then start to desire what God desires for us. In this way, we are no longer so disappointed when things we thought we wanted don't come to pass.

Here's an example: a couple of years ago, we had the chance to move to Canada (where my husband is from) and take over a family business. We were so excited and couldn't wait to get everything in order and ready to go! We prayed about it often. Although it seemed like exactly what we wanted and had ever hoped for, we still prayed God's will over it. Through the months it took to try and get everything settled, we prayed for God's will to be revealed even though we really wanted to move. After several months of planning and praying, we found that what we thought had been our hearts' desire in moving turned out to be contrary to the will of God, and in praying for God's will, he had changed the desires of our hearts and we no longer wanted to move. Amazing how he does that! Something we thought we had so wanted ended up being something we didn't want after we prayed for God's will to be revealed in our lives.

It's easy to get caught up in your own desires, your own plans, your own hopes and dreams. There's nothing wrong with having desires, plans, hopes and dreams. We just have to realize that they may not be what God has planned for us. However, when we pray for his will to be accomplished in our lives, and truly desire to be obedient, we won't be disappointed if our own plans don't come true. God's plan is always the best plan, and when we desire nothing more than to walk in his will, we will experience the fullness of God's blessings for us.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

God's Gift

I read this quote for the first time a week or so ago, when a friend posted it on her Facebook wall in honor of St. Nicholas Day.  It really got my attention and so I looked into this St. Nicholas of Myra.  He was an interesting fellow.  The way in which he was made bishop was unique.  One of the wise men in charge of electing a new bishop had a dream in which God told him to choose the first man named Nicholas to enter the chapel for matins the next day.  Nicholas of Myra was the first person named Nicholas to enter for matins that day, and therefore was made bishop.  Another story talks about a famine in Myra.  When several ships carrying grain came into the harbor there, St. Nicholas convinced the sailors to give the people of Myra a measure of grain from each ship.  He told the sailors, who were fearful the missing grain would be found out, that God would make up the difference.  When the ships' cargo was weighed, there was indeed no difference between what they had and what they were supposed to have.  Still another time St. Nicholas petitioned Constantine to lower the taxes for Myra because they were so high that the people were suffering.  Constantine agreed and the people of Myra were again saved from hardship.

So, this interesting long-dead bishop really put Christmas in perspective for me this year.  My husband and I were talking about the gifts we were going to get for our kids this year, and he was talking about how much they already have and how they don't need anything, etc.  I was agreeing with him on those points.  He said something about how they really don't deserve a whole bunch of gifts, and that's where this quote came in.  None of us deserve gifts.  If Christmas were truly merit-based, there wouldn't be a Black Friday or a Cyber Monday because nobody would be buying gifts.

Christmas has become so commercialized.  But more than that, for kids at least, it has become centered on their behavior and how they can earn their gifts each year.  I totally understand motivating kids to be on their best behavior.  I'm all for it.  But in this instance, are we doing our children a disservice by obscuring the real intention behind gift-giving?  Sure, we talk about Jesus being born and we're celebrating his birth after the fashion of the Wise Men, but it should be more than that.  Jesus is no longer a baby in a  manger.  He's the Spotless Lamb who was sacrificed, dead, and then rose again and is alive today.  He was the perfect gift; undeserved, unearned, and in no way related to our own actions.  How much more meaningful is a gift given to someone who has no reason to expect one because they haven't earned it?  It sheds a new light on Christmas for all of us and can be a powerful example for our kids if we'll just help them to understand that they're getting presents from their earthly parents even though their behavior didn't merit favor because in the same way, God their Heavenly Father sent His Perfect Gift to us when we didn't deserve it.

I love this view of gift-giving and it has changed my perspective.  I love giving gifts to others.  It isn't that my gifts are always merit-based, but this way of looking at the gifting tradition is going to make me think about who and why I am giving much more than I have in the past.  It adds depth.  It also makes me think differently about the gifts I receive.  I'm far from perfect and my behavior today alone doesn't merit anything special.  And yet, Jesus still died for me and the Father's Gift still stands.  And that, my friends, is what Christmas is all about.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

She makes her own bedspreads.  She dresses in fine linen and purple gowns.Proverbs 31:22, NLT

Being a Proverbial Wife (or, at least, trying my best to be one) I try to read Proverbs 31 often so that I can keep fresh in my mind exactly what that means.  Today, this verse stood out to me and these are my thoughts on it.
This wife cares what her husband thinks of her.  She wants him to be comfortable, happy, pleased, and she wants him to find pleasure in how she is dressed.  The Proverbial wife wants her bed to be a place of comfort and beauty.  She wants her husband to be able to enjoy his bed.  She makes her own bedspreads because she wants to make sure that they are beautiful and comfortable, pleasing to both her and her husband.  She dresses in fine clothing (which she has probably also made for herself) so that she looks nice.  The Proverbial wife wants to look good for her man!  I’m sure there were times when she schlepped around in her second best clothing, but overall, she cared about how her husband saw her and she cared about what kind of impression she gave others because that also reflected on her husband.
Ladies, we don’t always have to be walking around in heels and pearls, but it is important that we care about our appearance.  Sure, there are days I walk around the house in my pajamas, but they’re pretty rare.  When we’re working outside on the house or the yard I wear appropriate clothing for that too.  But when I’m going to the store, or to the kids’ school, etc., I make sure I’m dressed nicely.  My appearance is a statement about myself and about my husband.  My appearance tells people whether or not I care about myself, my spouse, my home.  If I always walked around in sweats and t-shirts with holes people would think that I was a slob.  You may say that it doesn’t matter what other people think, but in some cases it does and here is why: giving others a bad impression about yourself is disrespectful to your husband.
If you’re like me, you generally always try to cast your spouse in the best possible light to others.  Sure, he has faults, but they aren’t for public discussion.  If I constantly wore shabby clothing, it casts my husband in a shadow of doubt.  People would wonder if my husband just had really low standards because if I look that shabby, what must our home look like?  Most of us want our husbands to be respected in the community.  Ladies, I’m telling you, that depends in part on us!  If we aren’t respectable, why should people respect our husbands?  When people can’t see past our appearance then our testimony is compromised.
The bottom line is that we should put effort into our appearance for the sake of our husbands.  Remember when you were dating, and you’d get dressed with him in mind, and put your makeup on so that he would see you as pretty?  Why should that have changed once married?  Even if you don’t feel like your husband deserves that kind of respect and honor, God still does.  Ultimately, God is our husband; we are the Bride of Christ.  He certainly deserves our best every day.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Which way are you pointing?

I've had this subject rolling around in my mind for several days now, and with the news from Kentucky about Kim Davis, I thought it was time to put my thoughts out there.  In case you aren't aware, dear reader, Kim Davis is a county clerk in Kentucky who was ordered to serve time in jail because she refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.

I really don't know what she expected to happen.  It was not a surprise that she was going to be required to issue same sex marriage licenses.  Here's the thing- if she was opposed to doing this because of her personal belief system, then she should have been looking for a different job.  Or- and this would be my personal preference were I in her situation- she could have used her position as a tool to witness for Jesus.  I understand disagreeing with the gay/lesbian lifestyle.  However, there is a better way to approach people about it which does not require unnecessary martyrdom.  

Here's what I think a lot of Christians fail to realize: we cannot hold non-Christians to a belief system to which they do not ascribe!  Why is it that we expect people who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus to act like they do?  Dear reader, it is hard enough for me to consistently act in a manner befitting a Jesus girl!  I fall short daily!  The difference is that because I have the Holy Spirit convicting me, I can clearly see when I've done wrong and I feel remorse and seek forgiveness.  If someone who doesn't have the Holy Spirit is committing sin, how can we expect them to be convicted of that sin?  It does no good for us as Christians to point out their sin!  It just makes us come across as judgmental hypocrites, because we do fall short and they don't have a concept of grace.

So, what if instead of trying to convict sinners, we instead pointed people to Jesus and let Him do the convicting?  What if we just loved people, no matter their situation, and showed them that there is a better way?  It is not our job to be the Holy Spirit to non-believers.  It is our job to love them, minister to them, and point them to Jesus.  Show them how you live your life.  Show them how you live your relationship with Jesus every day in your marriage, at your job, with your kids, with your friends, and with those who don't know Him.  That's why Jesus said that others would know us by our love.  He never said to make non-believers fall into line.  He often said, instead, to show them The Way.  Show them how to love Jesus, and the rest will fall into place.

I ask you, friend, which way are you pointing?  Are you pointing fingers at others and pointing at what they're doing wrong?  Or are you pointing them instead toward Jesus?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Sound of (Worship) Music

There has been quite a bit of talk lately about modern worship music and whether or not it's good, acceptable, and even biblical.  I've seen judgment on both sides of the line and some of it has gotten pretty ugly.  It's perfectly okay to have an opinion either way; it is never okay to tell someone that the music they use to worship is wrong or somehow less valid than your preference.

There is a wide variety of worship music these days.  I've seen heavy metal bands who use that style to create worship music.  I've seen rock and pop music in worship.  I've seen classical music used and I've seen traditional hymns sung.  While the heavy metal and the old-fashioned hymns aren't my particular choice, I'm sure not going to tell someone who does like those styles that they aren't really worshiping the Lord because they aren't doing it my way.  If your heart is earnestly seeking after God and you're praising His name through whatever type of song you're listening to, then what business do I have telling you that it's not as good as the way I worship?!  It may not be my personal preference, but I have no right to put you down because I don't care for that style of worship music.  That is not showing love and grace towards my fellow believers.

I recently read an article by a pastor who refuses to use modern worship songs in his church because he said they were not theologically sound.  He said that all of the old hymns are theologically sound doctrine and he even said that modern worship songs should not be used in any church, ever.  That really bothered me because many of the modern worship songs we sing at our church are actually scripture straight from the Bible set to music!  Anyone who argues that modern worship music is not theologically sound has obviously not listened to much of it.  As with anything, there are exceptions to the rule and you have to be discerning, but in large part, modern worship music is straight from the Bible.  2 Timothy 3:16 says "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right" (NLT).  If all scripture is useful for teaching, then that certainly applies to scripture in modern worship songs.

I've heard people say that modern worship songs are too repetitive.  God's Word tells us in Psalm 119:11 that we should put His word in our hearts so that we don't sin against Him.  What better way to memorize scripture than by singing it?  Personally, I have a terrible memory, but when something is set to music I will remember it forever and a day.  Singing scripture is a perfect way for me to put God's word into my heart.  When I'm depressed or anxious I can recall a song quoting scripture much easier than I can recall scripture itself.  So, while modern worship songs may be repetitive in nature, they're beneficial because of it.

Another argument against modern worship songs is that they are too much like going to a rock concert and too much like entertainment rather than worship.  Well, I can tell you this-- if you're not in a worship frame of mind, you won't be able to worship no matter what style of music is playing.  If you're going to church to be entertained like at a concert then you're already going for the wrong reasons.  If you do have trouble worshiping because of the style of music then I would encourage you to find a church where you feel at home and free to worship in your own way.  I love the modern worship songs because I can let go and worship freely.  I've normally got my eyes closed and I'm not even paying attention to the lighting or the words on the screen or what the worship leader is doing.  I'm there to worship God and sing to Him alone.  I don't care what anyone else is doing because I'm too focused on God to notice!

The bottom line is this-- no matter what style of music you choose to use in your worship, focus on Jesus and give grace and love to those who choose a different style than you.  We are all the body of Christ and we should come together in worship, not tear each other apart because of our differences.