Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Send Me

There's a bigger picture you can’t see.
You don't have to change the world, just trust in me.
'Cause I am your creator, I am working out my plan,
And through you I will show them, I Am.
“I AM”
Ginny Owens

But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you; When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” Exodus 3:11-12

In her song “I AM” Ginny Owens refers to Moses, David and the Virgin Mary. She gives their side of the story so to speak and to each God replies with the words above. When I read those accounts and others like them, Noah, Peter, Paul and so many others, I have the perspective of thousands of years later. Now these are Bible greats but they were just ordinary people when God called them.

We used to sing an old hymn. “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” at Baptisms. The hymn recounts all kinds of people from shepherds to kings to ladies at tea and notes that all of them are saints of God at the same time they are just folk.

It doesn’t take extraordinary talent to be used by God. It doesn’t necessarily take leaving your home and loved ones or making huge changes to your life. It doesn’t take a degree or several letters after your name. It takes one little thing. God has to call you.

Moses, David, Mary and all the others we read about in the Bible were called from an ordinary existence, a day to day, mundane life. They were called and once they were everything changed. They didn’t change it. God did but they were willing to be his tools. Well, maybe willing is a bit strong. Each of them did the look behind, double take, are you sure you mean me, thing before saying yes.

The heroes of the Bible when called were at first reluctant and unsure. God doesn’t expect us to step right up with an attitude of entitlement. He calls ordinary people in ordinary circumstances to do extraordinary things so that his power will be evident. It’s okay to hesitate when he calls. It’s okay to question because he’ll tell us the same thing he told the spiritual giants we admire, “you don’t have to change the world, just trust in me.”

We can hesitate, we can question, we can even hide as long as in the end we say yes, Lord. We have to say, “yes, Lord. I’ll go where you send me.” It’s okay. He’ll do the work in us so that we can do the work in the world.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Being Inperfect

Be perfect therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23

Every Sunday and some days in between, I see or think about our church logo. We are “the inperfect church for inperfect people.” Yes, the misspelling is intentional. There are very good reasons why our pastor needs to make that declaration, why he needs visitors to kind of “get” us before they even walk in the door. This doesn’t mean that we are some new age, anything goes type of place. To the contrary, we are an Anglican church with our roots in some very old, very deep beliefs and practices. As far as how our service looks there is a nice balance. We are presented with ancient teachings in a lighter, freer way. The real rules certainly apply. They not only apply but are revered. A lot of the man made trappings, however, are missing. That’s okay. We’ve sorted out the things that draw us to God from the things that separate us. It’s a lovely mix of ancient and current. I like our church. It isn’t perfect, no one who goes there is perfect. That can be said of every church I’ve ever attended or heard about. The difference is we know it and we aren’t afraid to admit it.

Week after week we go over our core convictions. In my mind they make a bit more specific the words of Scripture, to love God and love our neighbor. (Deuteronomy 6:5, Luke 10:27) These core convictions were put together by the “inperfect” people who started this church. The people are imperfect but the ideas are stellar. There are six, lined up as an acronym that spells CHRIST. As simple and obvious as they seem when we say them, much like the idea of “loving” God and our neighbor, it can get complicated very quickly. We are after all, inperfect or imperfect or both.

We are, at our church, flawed people and we know it. I love that! The truth is there is not a church in this world that cannot make the same statement. There is no perfect church. I wonder so often how far we have actually come from what Jesus had in mind.

I’ve attended a few churches in my life, some of them, with some of the same people who I see every Sunday now. Those churches weren’t perfect. The difference is they weren’t quite comfortable admitting it. There is a freedom in having said right up front, we aren’t what we ought to be, yet.

Although we are called to “be perfect” I think it’s pretty clear we aren’t going to make it this side of heaven. What we do need to do is recognize our foibles and work to correct them. Even when we fall short if we’re acting out of love for God and love for our neighbor we’re pleasing God. None of us should get comfortable in our imperfections. We shouldn’t do the whole, “that’s just who I am” dance. We should all strive to be more and more like Jesus, to get closer and closer to perfect all the while being realistic.

Our church is perfect for imperfect people because admitting that we aren’t perfect creates an environment of growth and isn’t that a big part of what church is about?

Monday, August 29, 2011

To See Clearly

To you, O Lord, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy. What gain is there in my destruction, in my going down into the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim faithfulness? Hear O Lord, and be merciful to me; O Lord be my help.
Psalm 30:8-10

The notes in my study Bible on these verses refer to David’s understanding of life after death. The “going down into the pit” is apparently referencing David’s death. Certainly the scholars who wrote those notes are smarter than I, so I am not questioning the validity of their explanation. I do, however, see it a bit differently.

David begins the psalm talking about God having lifted him up, sparing him and being his joy. Then we have these verses about going into the pit, not being able to be faithful or to offer praise. Could this be about death? It could. To me it isn’t actual death. It’s more of the mini-death, if you will, of sinful behavior. It is the separation we experience when we distance ourselves from God by our own choices and behaviors.

One person may live in a pit of judgment or deceitfulness. Another may build their pit on broken dreams and bitterness. Each person’s pit is made of his own design but at the end of the day it’s still a pit. While we certainly hope those places are temporary dwellings too many of us get comfortable there, make our home and never attempt to get out. From that perspective it is difficult to praise God, sincerely or to receive His love. It is nearly impossible to love the people around us when we are trapped in the quicksand of sin.

Picture a dirty car window. You’re driving along with a car full of people. The other passengers are oohing and aahing over the sights but you aren’t impressed. From your dingy vantage point everything looks gray. No, you don’t think that tree is amazing or that the flowers are lush and beautiful. In fact this area looks depressed and dreary to you. Why do you see it so differently? Because your vision is marred by your circumstances.

Our own hurts and disappointments color everything we see and do. Recently I realized that I was painting many of my relationships with a brush covered in dust. The way I see myself often influences the way I see and love others. Ugly things like fear and envy come into play. Fear and envy are excellent building materials for pits but not for the life God planned for me to live.

Is David talking about actual death in this psalm? He may be but there are bigger considerations for those of us who still have a bit of journey in front of us. Regardless of whether we are facing actual death or the mini-death of repeated sin, the answer is to mimic David and cry out to God for mercy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Building Projects

And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 2:22

Have you ever been on a construction site? They’re awful. It’s bad enough when it’s a new building. But when it’s an existing building being gutted and rebuilt it can be even worse. In either case, no one worries about cleanliness or litter. My husband is a painting contractor. He isn’t a slob. His office is often cluttered but the floor isn’t covered in empty diet Mt. Dew bottles, empty food wrappers or various other debris. Yet, when I go to see him on a site he may well be surrounded by all kinds of rubbish. Those things, those leavings of the people working there are only the beginning. At the same site there are bits and pieces of wood, metal, nails, screws, etc. There is dust and dirt everywhere. It’s hard to believe that in a few weeks it can go from looking like a landfill to looking like a beautiful home, office or church building.

Maybe you are very forgiving of your own faults and foibles. I am not. I want to be all clean and shiny, all decorated and as lovely as possible. I don’t want anyone to know what I was like before the reconstruction started or what I looked like at the early demolition phase. At this moment in my life I would say that I am still a work in progress. There are still empty bottles, gum wrappers and scraps that need to be cleaned up. I don’t want you to know about those either.

An actual building has no feelings. All cute children’s stories aside, there sweet little cottage around the corner does not tell stories to all who enter in. A building is a building, mortar, brick, wood and other inanimate objects. The building doesn’t cringe when we look at it in its halfway stage. Most human beings cringe.

I would bet that more than a few people share my fear of being known. Yet none of us gets from birth to home without encountering the loving but serious pruning of God. Our Father wants the best for us. In order to lead us toward that He has to remove the things that are in the way. One day I would like my back porch to extend all the way across the house to come right up against my husband’s “kitchen,” the area where we keep the grill, smoker and other tools for his culinary tasks. To get that porch will take a lot of work and change. The verse above says we are being “built together.” That type of building requires us to be honest, to take a hard look at what should stay and what should go. In short, it will take work and change for us too and that might not be pretty. It might not be pretty, most likely it won’t but it will be worth it to be built into a “dwelling where God lives.”

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A New Look at Some Ancient Words

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23: 4a, 6

The other night at Bible study the leader asked us to tell which Psalm was our favorite and why. He quickly amended, “But you can’t pick the twenty-third. That’s too easy.” I almost laughed out loud. I wouldn’t pick the twenty-third, even today. Psalm 91 is my favorite psalm. Although having a favorite is highly unusual for me. I find it hard to pick a favorite anything. The reason I found Sam’s remark so funny is that until about a year or so ago, Psalm 23 would be my last choice! I might pick twenty-five or one hundred three. I might pick Psalm 27 but not twenty-three. Anything but twenty-three!

Psalm 23 used to be the death psalm to me. When do you hear it? At funerals! You know that’s true. Psalm 23 is on almost every funeral card I own. By that I mean the cards that give the person’s name range of life and then some uplifting message of comfort, aka, the 23rd Psalm!

Growing up Irish Catholic I attended more wakes and funerals as a child than I have as an adult. My grandmother took me to the wakes and funerals of all of her friends and relatives, and every time, there it was, “Yea, though I walk through the valley.” It ranks right up there with the song “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” in terms of creepiness for me. Or at least it did, until I read Max Lucado’s "Traveling Light". Prior to reading that book and answering the study questions, I could only see the gloom and doom. I do not want to dwell on walking through the valley of death. As far as my own death, I’m okay with going home. I’m just not so sure about the getting there.

Taking a closer, in-depth look with the help of Lucado’s book I began to see more of the comfort and protection, more of the beauty. I started to like the psalm. By the end of the book I really liked it. I recited bits and pieces in my head. God, in His inimitable way had brought me to that book and a new understanding of that psalm at the perfect time in my life. Every time I faced a challenge or adversity there was a phrase to see me through.

A few months after completing the book I had gone back to relying on my standard favorite Bible verses. They come from both the Old and New Testament and are tried and true for me. It wasn’t that I had forgotten the 23rd Psalm or gone back to shuddering at the thought of it; I had just slipped back into old patterns and wasn’t thinking about it as much. Then I went to a concert with my daughter-in-love, Stephanie. The first musician was someone we hadn’t heard before. He came on stage with a guitar and himself. That’s it, just a man and his axe, a small man at that. He looked about fifteen. Then he opened his mouth and we didn’t care if we’d ever heard of him or how old he was. (Turns out he’s thirty-something and has two children.) He sang a couple of songs and then told us he was going to sing us his favorite song. The one he was most proud to have written. I bet you’re way ahead of me here but the song isn’t based on the 23rd Psalm. It is the 23rd Psalm and it is amazing.

Now, a few more months down the road, as I go through my days I often have the words of Psalm 23 singing in my head. I don’t just like it now. I haven’t just gotten past my fear of it. I love it even though Psalm 91 will remain my answer when I’m asked if I have a favorite psalm. I just find it pretty funny that Sam just assumed we all loved Psalm 23! Then again, maybe he just knew we’d all be familiar with it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Need of Christ

Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Matthew 26:38

Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” John 21:15

What could Christ possibly need from me? Isn’t everything I have from our Father through him? So I will repeat, what could Christ possibly need from me? Me, and my love. From you, he needs you and your love. He needs it. He also wants it but he does truly need it. We were created to love our God. If he doesn’t need us then our creation was pointless.

My husband and I have four children and nine grandbabies. At the moment I have no physical need that they should be meeting. I can take care of myself, thank God. I don’t need money from them. I don’t need them to drive me anywhere or help me take care of my home or even walk. One day I may need them for all of that, but right now I just need their love and companionship. The same is true of my friends. While I am fairly self-sufficient I need them for chatting, movie watching, sightseeing, trouble shooting, etc. How is that anything like God?

If God is love then God wants love. If He didn’t we wouldn’t deal with the sometimes dreaded, free will. If God had no interest in our love, He would have created automatons that could be programmed to do whatever God wanted done. There would be no relationship with Him. We would not do things to please His heart nor would we ask Him to come to us as comforter or guide.

How can we demonstrate our love for God? It isn’t through service. We are chosen for acts of service, for assignments that bring glory to God’s name and we are given opportunities to demonstrate our love for our Lord based on our relationship with him. When I need something from one of my children of from a friend I ask the ones closest to me, not based on proximity but on heart. I do not want a favor from someone who is barely speaking to me. While I may need human help God does not need our help. The love has to come first. In that God, once again, illustrates the type of relationship He wants us to have with our families and our friends.

Jesus Christ does not need us to help him accomplish anything. He does need us to be near Him. He needs us to do the whole, “you hang up first, no, no, you hang up first” kind of thing we did in the blush of new love. He needs us to run to his side in our pain and in our joy. He wants us to tell him all about the new job, new baby, good test results, just the same way we tell it to our friends with skin. He also wants us to simply sit with him, watching the wind move the branches of the trees, watching the birds and squirrels play, the firelight flicker or the rain fall. He wants us to able to sit with him without saying a word, just enjoying each other’s company.

Jesus could certainly exist without my love or yours. His need is an emotional, heart need not a physical, can’t do it by myself need. It is a need I want to meet and fill. I don’t want Jesus to have to ask me, “Tricia do you love me more than these?” I want him to know that I do.

Monday, August 15, 2011

By Their Fruit

No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:43-45

This verse came to my mind the other day as I was describing the attitude of someone very near and dear to me. This young man would be the first to tell you that isn’t where he should be in terms of his Christian walk. I would be one of the first people, if not the first person, to disagree, strongly disagree. My young friend has an interesting relationship with God. He loves God. He is mindful of God. He wants his children to love God but he does ignore God quite a bit, or at least he says he does.

A couple of months ago another young man told me all about his close personal relationship with the Lord. He talked about his accomplishments. He quoted Scripture and attempted to show me the error of my ways. He looked through his plank filled eye at the specks he perceives around him and enumerated them in great contrast to 1 Corinthians 13:5b “ it[love] keeps no record of wrong.” When our conversation was over I felt sad for him. Living under the impression that he has arrived, he no longer feels an urgency to strive toward the goal. Sadly, he doesn’t feel an urgency to encourage others toward the goal either. He seems compelled only, to wield his knowledge like a banner at best and a weapon at worst. While pointing out the lack in my walk, he also chose to point fingers at my other young friend, the one who isn’t so sure of his standing with God. That made me mad. I didn’t see very inviting fruit there.

The verse from Luke says that we know our brothers and sisters by their fruit. Well, let me tell you a little bit about friend number one and his fruit. This is a young man who works long hours, at a difficult job to support his family. He brings that same little family to church on Sundays. His wife knows that he loves her and that she and their children are his top priority. Beyond that, whenever we talk about how things are going in life, this young man measures his progress with one standard, Jesus Christ. Over the years I’ve known him he’s done a forward and back in his relationship with God but he says things like, “I know I’m not where God wants me to be right now.” Or, “God might not be very happy with me right now.” Or my favorite, “I’m really thinking about Jesus lately, how he would see me.” Now, that young man may not make all the right choices. He may make choices that aren’t terribly spiritual, but, when he assesses his life, he looks to God, and to Jesus as his barometer. He decides how well or poorly he’s doing based on what he believes God wants from him. It is a very humble and beautiful stance. I see fruit and beyond that, leaves and buds, the promise of future fruit. If he’s talking to me about God, chances are, he’s talking to his family about Him too.

Thinking about my two young friends I am reminded of the story of Jesus and the fig tree. (Mark 11:13-14, 20-21) Seeing leaves on the tree but no fruit is a bit like seeing person who says the right things, wears the right things but comes up empty, due to surface religion not real faith. We know our brothers and sisters by their fruit and they know us by ours. I like the measuring rod by friend uses. I know I should use that standard more often myself. I need to check my fruit and to make sure I’m still planting seeds for future growth.


He has showed you O man what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly, to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8

“And what does the Lord require of you?” Here in Micah the difficult answer is stated so simply and succinctly. We are required to act justly, mercifully and to stay close to God. When Jesus came to walk among us he put it in even simpler terms. Love your Lord and love your neighbor. It doesn’t get any easier to understand than that but it is very hard to do. What’s more, we are required to do it. So what’s the problem? It’s hard!

To act justly… but what does that look like? How do I behave when I am acting justly? Is this the stuff of the golden rule? So if my brother or sister treats me with contempt should I assume that is how they would like to be treated? That doesn’t make sense. Justice is a tough call. Too many things have to be taken into consideration. Okay, I’ll get the rest going and come back to acting justly.

Love mercy…. Yes, of course I love mercy, when it is being showered all over me, I love it. When I have to give it I’m not so sure. When I give it and someone accuses me of going easy on an offender I’m about to get fed up with the whole thing. Still mercy may be my strongest suit here. While I’m all for accountability I prefer to show mercy rather than judgment. Who am I after all to withhold forgiveness? Mercy is good to get and to give.

Which brings us to walk humbly with your God…. The simple idea of walking with God is pretty humbling but then by walking with God he enables me to do amazing things, things I would never consider doing. Those things when viewed by others earn praise or compliments. I do not want to be falsely humble but I also do not want one ounce of credit for something that is God’s doing. Not only that but pride is a nasty, pesky thing. It slips in when and where you least expect it. One minute I’m doing just fine walking humbly with God and the next minute I’m all puffed up about something that had nothing to do with me in the first place. Ah, humility, the recognition that apart from my Savior I am nothing. Are we full circle yet? I hope so because I’m getting tired.

Oh right love my neighbor. Not a problem if she stays over there where she belongs but when she comes around butting in my life, that’s a different story. Not to mention that neighbor who is actually a member of my church who just rubs me the wrong way or that co-worker who seriously does not own a smile. Oh Heaven help me! In one brief instant, I did not act justly, I judged. I did not love mercy I preferred harshness and add to that pride made me see myself as better than my neighbor. Is there any hope for me?

Yes, praise God there is great hope for me and it comes in the form of a Savior who knows that I would never quite grasp the meaning of justice or mercy. He knows that I take one humble step forward and fifty-five prideful steps back and he loves me anyway. There is hope for me because my Savior lives and he loves me, flaws and all.
So what is actually required of me? Just what it says in Micah, to do all of those things to the best of my frail human ability, to lean on my Lord for strength and to know that his mercy is new every time I fail. Failure is not a problem as long as I keep getting up, dusting off and trying again. Each try brings me a little closer to the goal and all the way there my Lord will work on me.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Brass Ring

They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge every in kind of impurity with a continual lust for more. Galatians 4:18-19

Do you ever feel dissatisfied? Do you know people who constantly feel dissatisfied? The answer is right here in these verses. When we are separate from God nothing is ever enough. Anything we put in God’s place will have to be pursued constantly. Whether it’s cigarettes, food, money, the approval of others or anything else it doesn’t matter. The result will be the same.

The fact that Paul is talking to the Galatians about “a continual lust for more” tells us this is not new to our generation. It may be more pronounced but that is only because there are more things to want.

It goes back farther than the Galatians to the Israelites in Exodus. The manna provided by God was not enough. They complained and wanted something more, something different.

Whether it is ancient Israel, Galatia or 2011 America, God wants to come first with us. We call ourselves by his name. We claim to know and love him but we continually put other things first. We lust for more.

No thing will ever be enough. We could own everything ever made, multiple times and it wouldn’t be enough. Only when the thing we desire more than any other is God, does life make sense.

Most of us have heard about the brass ring. It is so elusive and yet people grab at it every time. Jesus is the true prize and when we grab for him we always win.

The Galatians hearts were hardened because they were listening to the siren song of the world. They wanted worldly things more than eternal things. They lost sensitivity and began to live in sin because God was not a priority.

Make God your #1 priority today. Stay near Him and He will satisfy you and keep your heart soft.

Monday, August 8, 2011

It’s Not Me

I am the Vine and you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. John 15:5

There is a line used so often in movies, TV shows and real life that is has become not just a cliché but a joke. Although it may truly, seriously fit a situation, most of us would hesitate to use it due to its hackneyed state. The line is, “It’s not you: it’s me.”

Just a few moments ago in prayer I realized a bit of growth in my life. I was very happy to see that change. To me that says I’m on the right path. As I noted it in my journal I wrote, “Praise God!” Why? Because it’s not me…. It’s Him! The changes may be taking place in my life but the truth is, I could never realize this improvement on my own. There is a lot more in it for me, in worldly terms, in the short run, if I stay where I’ve been. To be closer to God, to be a better witness, a better person, I need that change.

The way I see it we are in the deepest sin when we think we aren’t sinning. When any of us can look in a mirror and think, “Wow, I am doing so well. I’m so much better than those poor sinners in my family/workplace/church.” That is when the trouble is really brewing. Another side of that dangerous coin is when someone thinks, “Look how far I’ve come.” And ascribes that to some effort of their very own. We are the branches, not the vine. On our own, we can wither and die. Cut off from the vine we are useless as well as powerless. Attached to the vine we can grow and bear fruit.
Attached to the Vine we cannot be defeated.

I’m not who I want to be, but I’m not who I used to be either. PRAISE GOD! Sometimes I think about my life or meet someone who reminds me of me in some ways but is so different in other ways. Then I realize that I am who I am due to the precious grace of God.

It is a lovely and life giving twist of that tired old cliché. It’s not me; it’s You, as in You, God of the universe. If I ever begin to get the “big head” as my Irish Gram used to say, that is all I need to bring me back to reality. He is the Vine. I am merely a branch and without Him I can do nothing.

Living Your Dream

But the one who had received one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. Matthew 25:18

The verse above comes from the Parable of the Talents. That parable has been brought to my attention several times lately. I’m still not sure why but I thought about it again the other day while listening to a song on a “classic” rock radio station, the only station that I can get in my back yard.

The singer of the song was bemoaning his fate, on the road, being misjudged, having to take the stage night after night. I’ve heard that song more times than I care to count. I sort of like the music but the lyrics make me crazy. Poor pitiful him! He has to live his dream. Doesn’t that just break your heart? Listening to him I thought about my own dream. I am much older now than that man was when he wrote that song and he had been singing and performing for quite awhile by the time that song was written. I wonder some days if I will ever be able to see my dream fulfilled. I’ve had a little taste but not what I really want.

A day or so after that train of thought ran by, I heard a song with a similar theme. The announcer told a story of how the artist was disgruntled because his album wasn’t as well received as he’d wanted it to be, so he wrote this song, this dreary self-pitying song that has by now sold a bijillion copies. That artist is even more successful than the first one I mentioned and the song in question is incredibly well known and popular, albeit dreary and self-pitying. So there it was again. Another boo-hoo from a rich, famous man who, oh poor, poor baby, gets to do exactly what he loves to do to earn a living, a very nice living.

Thinking about the two of them was starting to make me a little, okay, a lot, aggravated when it occurred to me. My day job is okay, I actually enjoy it most days. It is not my dream. As I said, I’ve had a tiny taste of my dream and I really, really want more. The talent that God has given me is not being buried in the ground. I am trying hard to use it and I promise you, if I get the opportunity to live my dream, full time, I will not write sad, self-pitying drivel. But, in the meantime what I have that those two men clearly do not, is a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

When one realizes that everything they have comes from God, that apart from Him they have nothing, everything is a gift. When we appreciate those gifts we use them wisely and well. Those men have a level of success that evades me. They live their dream while I am still dreaming mine. Those dreams, however, can be taken away in a heartbeat and even while they are living them, they are not happy or fulfilled. I am still chasing my dream but I know contentment and joy because my life and my dreams belong to the Lord. I have a much bigger success story because I have been welcomed into the family of God and to this point, they have not. Nothing this world has to offer is enough. Even the biggest success obtained without God by our side will not taste sweet but with God as our center even the tiniest success can feel like a huge victory. The joy is in the Giver not the gift.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Protective Gear

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.
Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. Ephesians 6:10-11

The armor of God is an amazing gift that I believe is too often overlooked. A few weeks ago I was reading in 1 Samuel 18 about Jonathan and David. Jonathan is so committed to David that he removes his own clothing and gives it to David. Jonathan also gives David his sword, bow and belt. The words and the articles aren’t exactly the same but it reminded me of the armor of God.

Jonathan did not go and buy new pieces for David. He didn’t say, “Oh gee, you need a sword too buddy.” He gave David his own things. That came from Jonathan’s heart. He wanted to protect David and to demonstrate his level of feeling for David. In providing us with an armor made of his best gifts God does the same for us.

We are provided with a breastplate of righteousness. Many places in Scripture we read about righteous men. David is referred to as righteous. David, of the many, many big, ugly, sinful choices is referred to as righteous. Why? Even when David was falling into sin he still had his heart set on God. David was human like the rest of us and he did make some awful mistakes but through it all he loved God. That breastplate protects our hearts and keeps them tuned to God.

We are also given the belt of Truth. That is the truth that Jesus suffered and died for us because our Father love us that much. That belt holds us together when it feels as if we are falling apart.

We walk by faith, in feet shod in the Gospel. If we are truly standing on God’s word what can cause us to doubt? With those shoes we are able to run the race God has planned for us all the way to the finish line.

We put on a helmet of salvation. If God is for us who dares to be against? That helmet says we belong to a mighty God and no one can take that away. It protects our minds from attacks of doubt and despair.

We carry the sword of the spirit. That sword is made of the strongest material ever, the Word of God. If we truly carry that word with us we can use it to protect ourselves as well as encourage ourselves and others.

The shield of faith is just what it says it is. We hold our faith in front of us. We carry it and wear it proudly, not cowering from or bowing to, anyone or anything. That shield bears our family crest. It proudly declares that we are members of the family of God.

Each piece of the armor was given to us for a specific purpose. Together, worn all at once, the whole armor identifies us, protects us and makes us bold to conquer any enemy.

Put on that armor and walk humbly with your God.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Choose Love

But God demonstrates his love for us in this; that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

How does this Scripture make you feel? Think about it for a minute. “While we were still sinners.” I don’t know about you, although I could go out on a limb and guess, but I am still a sinner. I’m not talking part time here either. There aren’t months, weeks or even days when I think, “well look at that, there’s no sin here.” I am a sinner and for years and years I have let the guilt of that bog me down. I bet you know that self-talk. Okay this time is going to be different. I am not going to do that, speak that way, act that way anymore. Tomorrow is going to be different. Then tomorrow shows up and it’s the same old story, same old song and dance. AUGH! Okay once more with feeling, tomorrow is going to be different! Unfortunately the feeling there is usually guilt.

Read the Scripture again. It isn’t like our Abba thought we were just so adorable and well behaved that He sent us this precious gift. He sent us His one and only Son to die because He knew that without that sacrifice and sadly even with it, that tomorrow could well be the same as yesterday and today. Here’s the good news part, He didn’t care. He loves us so much that He was willing to give His all to us so that we could be free from sin eventually and free from guilt today.

Yes, I am a sinner but guess what? My Daddy loves me anyway. It isn’t that He doesn’t see my sins. It is that He sees them in a different light. Will power is a joke. Like every other man made scheme, it is fallible and transient. The saving grace of God in the person of Jesus Christ is eternal.

Yes, I am a sinner and I can choose to live under the guilt and pain of not just the sin but the failure to overcome it or I can choose a better way. The better way is to live under the perfect grace that frees, saves and strengthens me. Salvation is not just for the day that I stop breathing. It is for today and tomorrow and everyday.

Guilt will make me sick and sore, tired and irritated. Grace and mercy will make me joyful and free. Living in that way does not deny the sin. It confesses the sin, basks in the grace and sets off in the hope that with the presence of God securely dwelling inside of me, I will learn and grow in peace and love.

Choose, love, grace and joy for while we were still sinners, not after we by an amazing amount of sheer will power we cleaned up and got it all together, but while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Used by God or Just Used

Now Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men from Acacia Grove to spy secretly saying, “Go view the land especially Jericho.” So they went, and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there. But the woman had taken the two spies and hidden them. She said "Yes the men came to me but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk when it was time to close the city gate the men left. I don't know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them." (But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof.) Joshua 2:1, 4-5

Rahab, a prostitute and apparently a liar is first seen in the book of Joshua and then again in the book of Matthew. In Matthew 1:5a it reads "Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab." That little harlot married one of those spies. It sounds like a juicy crime novel from back in the ‘20’s doesn't it? In fact it is a great story that can give us hope in our worst moments.

It is my guess that every one of us has looked in a mirror or sat in a quiet room and felt disappointment or even disgust at our own actions. Speaking for myself I've certainly regretted a few falsehoods in my time and I'm sure Ill regret a few more. I may not have spent any time as a prostitute but I'm sure my actions have caused my Father’s heart pain.

When that realization hits, when I know that I have offended God I take heart in knowing that He loves us no matter what. Our sister Rahab is one proof that He does. Rahab lived in a society of many gods but she wasn't satisfied. Watching the Israelites, hearing stories about them she became curious about their God, the one true God. Because of her great faith her life was spared when her countrymen were defeated. Rahab went on to become the wife of one of those spies, Salmon and bear Boaz becoming part of a direct line to Jesus.

It makes no difference what is in your past or what sin you believe cannot be forgiven. Our Lord forgives all sin. In the line of Jesus with Rahab is Tamar, who pretended to be a prostitute to lure her father-in-law. These are not noble acts, but both women had great faith in the promises of God, a God neither of them had been raised to believe in or worship.

Whether your faith is new or mature, greatly or only slightly blemished is of no concern to God. He just wants us all to bow to His will. Trust and obey. We beat ourselves up with past mistakes but our dear Lord sees them as growing pains. Rahab and Tamar both made some pretty bad decisions but God was still able to use them. He can use each one of us too, if like Rahab and Tamar we will let Him.