Thursday, January 30, 2014

The God Who Sees Gives Sight

Just a note from my personal readings lately for encouragement:

Genesis 21:19: Then God opened her eyes [Hagar]and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the skin with water and gave the lad a drink.

Impression: In Genesis 16:13: Then she [Hagar] called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” The first time Hagar was in trouble, the Lord came to her and SAW her. This time, the Lord was with her and opened her eyes. Is that not the way God works with us? First He sees us and makes Himself known, then He allows us to see His provision.

Application: God sees my need. He knows before I ask (Matthew 6). The question is, in my need will I call out to Him or try to take care of the problem myself? My need for and dependence on Him is a function of prayer. When I call, He not only sees, but eventually He will open my eyes to His provision. In this way, He is glorified and honored, praised and exalted for meeting my need. He is the God who sees. He is the God who provides. Am I willing to submit myself to His care?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Beautful Faith: One Woman's Testimony of Grace

Last week’s post, “Faith: Just Do It,” was written to myself (!) regarding areas of struggle where I get stuck. Over and over I give in to myself; to sin. Over and over I whine and wait for a “Shazam!” moment from the Lord. The small child who stubbornly refused to obey the nursery worker was a picture to/of me when I refuse to turn from my way to God's in brokenness, with neediness and humility of heart.

One reader commented: “I tend to think of it more of as a matter of trust. Trust and faith are exercised in tandem. For me it is a matter of choice and choosing to trust that which my faith is grounded in and then stepping onto the unknown path the Lord has me walking on.”
Her comment carries a great deal of weight. Although she is a young mother, she was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and instead of getting better, the reports get worse.  I asked if she would share because of the tender, peace-filled words that come across the page. She answered, “I don't want to be the focus, I want Christ and what He is doing to be the focus :).” Below is her testimony of how God is revealing Himself during this time, for His glory.

She wrote:
I want you to know the Lord is amazing and he is growing me much in this area. I knew I had faith, I knew I wanted to obey, but without trusting in the promises he has given us you can't move when the storms come. I don't know where this journey will lead me, I don't know the path it will take, but what I do know is the more I place my trust in Him, my faith gets stronger and the ability to be obedient where fear, doubt and worry play are so much easier. The more I trust the easier each of these areas becomes. I have no fear, nor worries. I know I am being used by the Lord and my greatest pleasure is knowing that He will use this for His glory.

When I first was told that I had cancer, it was a shock because I had been told that the chance was very small, like only a 10 percent chance for several different reasons…  I knew in that moment I had a choice to make. I had to make a willful choice to trust in the Lord. Despite all odds tests kept coming back worse than anticipated, I chose to trust that because if the odds were against what was happening then that meant this had to be the Lord's will and therefore part of a larger plan. As I prayed and held on to the promises the Lord has given us and choosing to trust those things, I have grown to a different kind of obedience.

I think most of us get wrapped up in the obedience of works/actions (I don't think it is wrong but it is not the only way we are called to obedience) that we forget we have been called to be obedient in our emotional responses. This is where the Lord is working on me: Patience, fear, worry, doubt, stress, discontent. These are not God given and they drive a wedge, if we allow it, in our relationship with Christ. I made a choice to try as hard as I could to turn my back on these things and hold on to Christ as an anchor. What I have discovered and learned is that as I purposefully try to obey God in this way my faith has grown exponentially, I find it easier to trust in His word and consequently it is easier to obey. But for me it had to start with choosing to trust the promises he has given.

We get wrapped up in obedience and faith that we forget sometimes that we simply need to trust in the Lord and His promises. We forget to trust that the Lord is in control of all things and simply rest in Him. By the Word of God He does expect us to trust:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

Pay attention and turn your ear to the sayings of the wise; apply your heart to what I teach, for it is pleasing when you keep them in your heart and have all of them ready on your lips. So that your trust may be in the Lord, I teach you today, even you. Proverbs 22:17-19

Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Psalm 62:8

You who fear him, trust in the Lord—he is their help and shield. Psalm 115:11
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:2

You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. Isaiah 26:3

 Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, And whose hope is the Lord. Jeremiah 17:7

 ... that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. Ephesians 1:12

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.  1 Timothy 4:10  
In thinking through our inner motivation for obedience (love and trust--which pleases God or fear and a desire to escape punishment--which does not), may we offer our thoughts, attitudes, emotions and actions to Him in prayer first and foremost. He is the great Healer, the Sustainer, the Giver of all good things. He wants us to be at peace, to experience satisfaction and hope regardless of our circumstances.

As the Lord allows, please remember this dear sister and her family in your prayers.



Friday, January 10, 2014

Faith: Just Do It!

This week as I helped in the church nursery, one little piker (dearly loved by this author) refused to obey. Ugh. She didn't kick, hit, or throw a tantrum; she just. wouldn't. obey. Period. The grandma worker had asked her to "Say, 'No, thank you,' please." In love, she provided countless opportunities to change but refused to lower the bar, valuing obedience (the child's) and  integrity (her own). Minutes before Mommy returned, the little one uttered a sincere "No, thank you" and moved on.


The picture of that puffy lipped child in time-out came to mind as I read this passage for adults last night:

"'It does not take much faith to do great things. Even a small amount (as small as a tiny mustard seed) could do wonders. What you need is not more faith; you simply need to exercise the faith that you have and stop making excuses.'
"The problem, then, is not a problem of faith; the problem is much more straightforward, uncomplicated, and simple. It is a problem of obedience."  (Jay E. Adams, The Christian Counselor's Manual, p. 69).
And I was reminded of those things I would like to change--those areas where I sin against others, struggle with myself, and fail repeatedly. And I took great hope in Jesus, who loves me too much to let me continue and gives repeated opportunities for forgiveness and change.

Lesson to self: don't think about, stew about it, worry about it or excuse it--just do it. In faith. By prayer. Life's so much easier that way (for "the way of the transgressor is hard," Proverbs 13:15). When I obey, God is honored and I am blessed.
(With special thanks to our weekly nursery worker!)
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 
Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?  And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2:14-26)

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.
By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:1-3, 6)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

10 Ways to Get Real

Listen carefully when others pray; they're likely to tell God things they'd never tell you. A couple of weeks ago someone prayed, "And God, please help _______ with her anger issues." Yes, me. Ahem. I'm sure I grimaced, but by the "amen," I was so very, very grateful for the loving, uninhibited prayer of a friend! Her words became my own and have stayed with me in a powerful way.

Needless to say, many of us hide what's really going on, especially at church. We dress up, cover up, put on our show face, and stroll down the aisle. How sad. How very, very sad. The first place we should be ourselves is among Christ-forgiven brothers and sisters. "Love one another," "pray for one another," "confess your sin one to another," "bear one another's burdens." So why don't we? Pride. Fear. Embarrassment. Self-protection. None of which is biblical, God-honoring, admirable, or right.

What would happen if one or more of us were real with one another at church? Flawed? Repentant (in church?!)? Humble. How it would open the door for others! And the blessings? The blessing of such fellowship is simply a taste of heaven on earth's side!

Here are some notes for myself on practical ways to grow in humility and honesty:

1. Pray. Ask God to humble my heart and make me more aware of my sin (ouch!).
But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble." Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:6-10)

2. Remind myself that Jesus left heaven--the perfect place, the place where He was adored, worshipped and honored 24/7--because of my sin. That's how bad I am--it's the cost of my sin. I have nothing on anyone else. It's also the measure of His love!
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

3. Read Scripture daily with one finger on the Word of God and four pointing back at me.
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

4. Stop thinking about, talking about or listening to the sins, failures and weaknesses of others. The love Jesus showered on me (point #2), becomes a supernatural outpouring of love and grace toward others.
For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)

5. When I hurt someone, lie, steal, or am selfish, rude, unkind, impatient, etc. I must, MUST stop and apologize that very moment. Not an "Oh, boy, was that embarrassing," but a, "Wow, I was wrong. I am so sorry I hurt/offended you. Would you please forgive me?"
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:21-24)

6. Ask a friend from church to pray with me for (gasp) an area of sin in my life: for a way I habitually hurt others, for spending money and time irresponsibly, loving pleasure more than God, failing to meet the needs of my family, eating too much and/or not caring for my body or home in a way that honors God.
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. (James 5:16)

7. Ask if he/she would share Scripture, personal experiences and/or practical ideas for change.
Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back,  let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)

8. Take her seriously, talk about practical ways to use her suggestions. Ask if I can check in with her periodically about that area of my life.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV)
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2 ESV)

9. Be that person who is not always okay; who has difficult days, struggles, weaknesses and moments of failure.
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

10. Share testimonies of God's goodness in my life with others--anyone who will listen. Keep current successes in my back pocket, ready to share at all times, praising God for evidence of His power, love and grace.
I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will praise You. (Psalm 22:22)
I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. (Psalm 34:1)
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)