Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Gift of Gratitude

All four children and I traveled to Wyoming last weekend to see my family, especially my ailing grandmother.  While there, my dad thanked me for tools we've given him that travel in his to-the-hills vehicle.  My heart filled, knowing that he not only remembers what we gave, but continues to be reminded of us.  I was touched by his acknowledgment and remembrance of our gifts.
And just as quickly, I was convicted of my own ingratitude.  How often do I thank God and others?  For gifts of each day? For surroundings, family and friends?  My ingratitude is a measure of self-focus.  I am more concerned with myself, my agenda and my own musings than others.  Or God.  I do not give thanks.  I do not remember His goodness.  I do not acknowledge the gifts or the Giver.  As a result, life is strained, stressful and surprisingly empty.
The experience with my dad reminded me of a discussion I had with a biblical counselor the day we left.  He said, "What do we get when God is glorified?  We get joy."  The beauty of creation or the working out of redemption is an indescribable blessing.  In the moment we see it, we are full.  Fulfilled.  Content.  Complete.  The revelation of God's goodness, majesty and power speaks.  His Spirit within convicts.  And we experience the kingdom of God.  Heaven.  Joy. 
Even as Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, his disciples saw a glimpse of His glory and fell on their faces in worship.  He is worth the praise, worth the thanks, worth the glory and honor.  And in that moment, we understand the small part we play.  His who He is apart from my existence.  He does not need my worship, but His greatness and holiness demand it.  My heart bows in reverence, not because it is mine to give, but because it is His due.  Praise is given when we have seen the Lord.  We know He that is--He that is hidden, behind the veil--and we are blessed.
In the difficult days of life, in the moments of despair, I am blessed to look upon the Lord.  To see Him high and lifted up, to see Him exalted, to visit His glory is to have joy inexpressible.  And as my grandmother struggles to manage pain and loneliness, we redirected her to that very God--the One who blesses us through our praise, the One who gives as He receives (read Psalm 71 to encourage the aged saints).  He gives grace...and joy...and hope.  He is.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


We set up Good News Club at the elementary school as they announced the results of the student council election.  And there were cheers.  And tears.  Accolades and best wishes.  Condolences and hugs.  It's great to win.  And it's rough to lose.
We had at least two defeated candidates in club and God had planned the perfect verse, "Be content with what you have, for God has said, 'I will never leave you.'"  It was hard to speak in the face of pain, tears and disappointment, but the gospel is always good news. 
The gospel says, "God loved me so much He gave His best, His only, as a sacrifice for me."  And as we learned the verse together and prayed, asking God to give us contentment, I had to admit that there are some things in my life that cause me to think, "If only I had (     ), my life would be better."
The kids shared their if-only's: the DX-MX454 (or whatever the newest gadget is), an ipad, an ipod, an iphone, a better friend, a bigger family, and the list went on.  But when we looked at the life of King Ahab, we saw the path of wanting what God has not given: death and destruction. 
If I really, truly believe God is God and He loves me, I will trust Him to provide what is best.  I can trust Him to provide what I need.  And I will be content--satisfied with my job, my home, my car, my body, my children, my church....  When I have a need, I will ask God and wait. And I will wait with hope and anticipation, knowing that whatever He chooses is best.
This morning that message still rang in my head as David and I read from Psalms. When it was my turn to pray, I asked God to make me more grateful.  My stinky self is never grateful, never satisfied, but God....  God is within, doing His supernatural work.  Then, as I sorted clothes for the washing machine, I was surprised to hear myself say, "Thank you, God, for the children that wear these clothes.  Thank you for the privilege of knowing them and being part of their lives.  Thank you for the gifts you've given them and the gifts they are to me."  And I knew God had answered my prayer.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Un-Bucket List

I stopped in my tracks as I read, "And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).  It was the verse of the day above my kitchen sink, but it stayed there more than a week.
The context wasn't new.  The verse wasn't new.  But I wondered how many weaknesses or infirmities I could list in thirty seconds.  Even a minute.  I wanted to, but knew I would come up lacking.  If my weakness is truly my boast and pleasure, it should be at the forefront of my mind.  I should be able share a fifteen-minute discourse.  What I needed was an here-I-am-after-kicking-the-bucket list.  You laugh because you know that, by now, God has given me the privilege. 
A few days into my brewing weakness inventory, the morning was dreary and I wanted to sit back and do nothing. I had a couple of hours and knew I could hunker down with hot chocolate, animal crackers, and a chick flick.  The house was empty.  But thoughts of the manuscript I wanted to edit, the emails that needed to be sent, the laundry, cleaning and cooking hammered in my head.  "God, if you want me to get it done, you're going to have to move me.  I don't want to do any of it."  It wouldn't have gotten done, but it did.  I am weak.  God is strong.
To make more sense of the verse, I studied "weakness" in other Scripture passages.  In Romans, Paul wrote, "I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh."  That rattled in my head for a day or two.  "The weakness of your flesh...."  And I remembered the Roman death penalty that involved tying a murder victim to the murderer's body, limb to limb, until the murderer succumbed to infection and decay. Our spiritual, "new man," indwelt by the Spirit, is incorruptible and can't be decayed, but I pictured the hand of my new man reaching out to offer compassion or care, bound to the old man's hand.  Both are visible and present. Thus the struggle with sparring motivations. When the foot of my new, Christ-filled self steps out in faith, it is accompanied by a rotting foot that seeks to go it's own way.  Moving forward requires determination, prayer and dependence on God.  This is the weakness of my flesh (and gives life to Romans 7-8).
Friday I emailed a dear friend who lived 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 the last two years.  After reading her response and enjoying the wonderful turnout we had for a bonfire with international students at our home, the light came on.  We appreciate, acknowledge and praise people for the outcome of a successful event, project or activity.  But the praise and thanks does not belong to us.  It is the "power of Christ."  Mine is the weakness; the inability to reach the goal; the incapacity to control the variables, the infirmity and ignorance that precede and intersect each interaction, each moment.  My glory, my boast, is in what I cannot do.  Why? Because as God works, He is magnified.  My inability is a directional device that points others to Him.  The results build His reputation as a powerful, loving, amazing God who works marvelously through objects that were once dead, but walk in newness of life--breathing His breath, using His eyes, thinking His thoughts, functioning as His Body. 
What a gracious, loving God to use empty vessels!  Empty.  For if we are not empty, how will He fill us?
Which begs the questions:  How empty am I?  How weak?  How aware of my pain and sorrow and brokenness?  If God is glorified in my weakness, do I know it?  Walk in it?  Glory in it?  I've started a yes-I've-kicked-the-bucket-and-this-is-how-you-know-it list.  I hope you'll join me.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Gift of Personal Worship in a Corporate Setting

Worship is a lot like eating.  It's personal.  What goes in is who we become.  What's been ingested is evident to others, lacking the details.  Worship and eating are both private and corporate practices.

After a piano offertory last week, a gentleman approached wanting to ask a "personal question." 
Knowing this grandpa has a great sense of humor I said, "Sure,"with a laugh .
"Do you ever play for just you?"
"Of course.  When I'm stressed, or need time to think or just worship. I leave whatever I'm doing and play."
"I thought so," he said with a smile.

When each of worships God personally, our corporate worship becomes richer, fuller, deeper.  One of my friends has the ability to pray Scripture, especially the Psalms.  She speaks with passion and heartfelt humility, her voice rising, falling, tapering to silence.  Before she completes a petition, every eye in the room is moist and every nose sniffles.  Our hearts are satisfied; we have experienced God differently through her experience and expression than we have through our own.

Regardless of how we minister in our local churches, we must come setting aside self and revealing God as we know Him through His Word. What thoughts or Scriptures aid you in corporate worship and ministry?  I'd love to hear your answers.  Would you leave one here, even if it's brief?

"Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,  that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.... As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.  If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 4:1, 9-11 NKJV)
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Galatians 2:20 NKJV) 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

People Who Ruin My Life

I have been thinking about you lately.  Yes, you.  And wishing I knew you better, or knew more about you.  Some of you I've met in brief comments here at Heart Quencher.  Others of you share encouragement over the phone or in passing.  Each response is precious.  Each response represents one of you seeking the Lord, desiring to serve Him, striving to live the gospel in a world that is very much against it.  If there is a topic that would be helpful to see here, or if you'd like to see more practical tips, or have ideas to share, please don't hesitate to comment or send me a personal note. I'd love to hear from you!

This last week I've spent time with a couple of friends whose lives are being ravaged and torn apart by someone else's choices.  Perhaps you've been there.  Someone you love is making a series of choices that not only create tension and inconvenience, but tear your heart from your chest, expose it to the world, and leave you feeling used and confused.  We talked about sin--that is our natural bent, that is what we choose.  Too often we are surprised that people do wrong when it should be the opposite.  We should be amazed, praising God when people (including ourselves!) trust Him and obey, regardless of the circumstances.
"I don't know if _________ is saved," each woman said, and I heard the desire of her heart, having asked it of myself and others.   
"Jesus said to look at the fruit (Matthew 7:16-23)."
Knowing the right answers, claiming to do work in Jesus' name, and participating in church activities are not the fruit--but that is often what we look for.  And it's not so much about examining the fruit in others as it is about examining the fruit in our own lives.
In his book, Changed Into His Image, Jim Berg challenges us to look at our response to difficult situations as a way to determine spiritual fruit.  When hardship comes, do I respond with jealousy, anger, disputes, drunkenness, immorality, or striving?  Or do I find myself showing love, kindness, patience, peace and gentleness?  The overflow of my heart, in my words and actions, is the fruit of my life.  It is the difference between who I am naturally and who I am when God's Spirit resides within. 
When difficulty, pain or rejection come into my life I have a choice between my way and God's way.  The trials are meant to build up my patience and steadfastness, allowing God to work our Jesus' character in both big and little things (James 1:3).  My hunch is that Noah's first assignment from God wasn't building an ark for 120 years.  He was faithful in the little things and then the big things, as God presented them (Luke 16:19, Matthew 25:29).
And that is where the difficult people come into our lives.  God uses them.  He grows us in Christlikeness as a result of their sinful tendencies.  He may actually use them to protect us in a mysterious way we cannot understand.  But we can trust His faithfulness, His wisdom, and His love and praise Him through the process!

"Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
"And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.!" (Matthew 7:24-30, 37-43). 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Journal from a Farm Wife

Yesterday I struggled with godliness.  Instead of my chirpy, cheerful self I found myself withdrawn and grumpy.  It might have been the offer to drive the grain cart for my husband, but I had given up my agenda willingly; I didn't feel cheated or obligated.  It might have been the unwieldy cart, full of grain, that wiggled and jiggled and rocked, making me nervous.  Or it might have been the dust and traffic on the gravel roads as I drove back and forth from the field to the grain bins.  The stress of it all stole my joy.  I know the time I nearly lost control on a downhill slope with a ton of beans attached behind didn't help.  That was simply terrifying.

I tried to cheerful, and helpful, and kind.  But I just couldn't get there.  I wanted to be happy.  And I wasn't unhappy.  But I just couldn't put a smile in my voice on the two-way radio.  And I just couldn't wave in excitement as David passed me in the field, chugging from one end to the other with the combine.

I guess it's life.  A bump in the road.  It happens sometimes.  That's what grace is for.
(Finished a week after the fact....)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Effective Ministry

When we spend time serving others, we often find ourselves looking for the most productive, efficient, cost-effective means.  We want a powerful program that requires as little effort as possible--because time is precious and the demands of life are great.  My guess is that the Pharisees and scribes of Jesus' day felt much the same way.  The people were many, the sacrifices, rules and demands were great (although many were the result of their own making--ahem!).
When Jesus called their bluff and rebuked them, these leaders wanted a sign--a way to judge His validity.  Perhaps, greedily, they were looking for a new technique or program that would improve their ministry.  What Jesus offered was not some thing, but some One.


In so many ways, we want to be the someone of our lives.  We pray, asking God to fix what doesn't suit us, or change it altogether.  What God has in mind, however, is to clean the clutter of our useless desires and replace them with His own.  His desires, His perspective, His way of thinking.  We can't fabricate God.  But we can, through His indwelling Spirit, know and become like Him, if we trust  His Son, Jesus.  Without repenting of love for myself and and asking Him to take His rightful place, the home of my heart will not change.  I can dress it up with church attendance, generosity, baptism, or any number of religious activities.  But without Jesus, there will be no lasting effect: no effortless love or peace or joy.  No inherent goodness or kindness.  Each thought, each act will be polluted with self: self-exaltation, manipulation and my own personal agenda.  This is what the Pharisees wanted--power to remain the same with an appearance of godliness.
But life with Jesus may not be what we expect: a pretty, come-to-church-smelling-good-and-everyone-will-adore-me life.  We may actually lose the appearance of godliness for a time (the mess tends to gets worse before it gets better). And the somethings of our life, the circumstances and outer array, may not change.  But once the Someone in charge does, life is very different.  The inside of my house is clean.  I can serve Jesus and go about my business with a song regardless of the circumstances.  I can kneel at His feet and weep.  I can cry in His lap and be comforted.  He is there.  Will always be there.  I may not look as "put together" as some.  I may not be as efficient as some.  My methods may even lack snaz and pizzaz.  But He is there.  And I have joy. And love for others.  And I become more and more like Him from the inside out.
If you are serving the people of God instead of the God of people, stop looking for what God can do.  Look at Who He is.  To follow Jesus is to be quiet, humble, gentle, loving, kind, and good, valuing the will of the Father above the will of myself. And that is so very opposite of who I am on my own.  "Oh, to be like Jesus."
“Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen,
My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased!
I will put My Spirit upon Him,
And He will declare justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel nor cry out,
Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.
A bruised reed He will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench,
Till He sends forth justice to victory;
And in His name Gentiles will trust.” (Matthew 12:18-21)

(Thoughts after reading Matthew 12.)