Saturday, September 6, 2014

when rewards become gods
It’s been incredible journey this summer. . .  I put on my running shoes and have been traversing my neighborhood with God by my side. 

I took up running as an act of obedience and wow! have I learned a lot on this trip.  I’m not running to lose weight.  I’m not running to be healthy.  I’m not running to feel better. I’m not running for people’s praise. BUT all of those things have happened since I strapped these shoes on my feet and took to the road.
And I must confess, I’m finding the rewards mighty fine! 
While they are a beautiful result of obedience, it has now become a struggle to keep my heart focused on the REAL reason I’m running.  I find myself getting sidetracked by the benefits. Instead of following God I start following the rewards.  I want to run more and more so I’ll lose the weight even faster.  I like that people are noticing and I spend my time thinking about how nice that is.  I log on to Facebook and see all the wonderful accomplishments of my friends and I want to add mine to the list.  And on and on it goes . . .
Why does this happen?
 We start out with all the right motivations and then something turns in us.  In a New York minute we’re in a place we never thought we would be with a heart set on things we had originally set out to avoid.
We worship the rewards and forget the Giver.
This is nothing new.  It’s an age old struggle.
They traded the truth about God for a lie.  So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise!  Romans 1.25 (NLT) 
What truth are you trading for a lie?
It’s so easy.  It happens in a heartbeat.  So how do we keep from believing the lie and worshiping the rewards?
I’ve discovered on this journey that it takes INTENTIONALITY.  We won’t fall into this.  It won’t just happen naturally, we have to be purposeful!  You see we have this bent . . . it draws us away, rather than towards.  So unless we continually allow God to right us . . . we will always be moving away.
Here’s what I’m doing to stay focused on the right motivation:
I refuse to put any of my accomplishments in weight loss or running on FB.  Because I know as soon as I do I will be focused on how many people LIKE my achievement.  I constantly remind myself why I’m running.  When someone gives me a compliment about how I’m looking I turn around and give it to God.  That’s how I’m choosing to worship the Giver and not the gift.  How are you?
Have you been way too focused on the blessings and neglected the Giver?  What steps do you need to take to realign?

Who may climb the mountain of the LORD?  Who may stand in His holy place?  Only those whose hands and hearts are pure, who do not worship idols and never tell lies.  They will receive the LORD’s blessing and have a right relationship with God their Savior.  Psalm 24.3-5

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Embracing the Journey
Mid-summer I broke out with a rash.  It wasn’t much but it WAS on my face.  So I immediately made an appointment to see the doctor the following day.  He called it “contact dermatitis” (what they call a rash when they don't know what it is) and sent me home with a dose of steroids. 
Then the itching began . . .
And the rash continued to spread.  Down my neck to regions beyond. 
I won’t bore you with the details, except to say the itching was driving me CRAZY!!!!! 
Couldn’t sleep.  ITCH, ITCH, ITCH . . . !! 
Struggled to focus. SCRATCH, SCRATCH, SCRATCH . . . !!
Restless endless nights.  ITCH, ITCH, ITCH . . . !!
Two weeks later, four more visits to the doctor, higher doses of steroids, shots, Benadryl, my regular allergy medicines, and every home remedy solution on the planet and I still wasn’t any better.  One consolation . . . (not that it was any consolation) I did know what I had . . . a bad case of poison ivy!
The day after my last doctor visit, I was out for a run . . . (Side note:  I have found my runs to be very clarifying and my listening skills much more in tune with God) . . . and I felt God say to me, “You’re D-O-N-E.  You’ve tried EVERYTHING!  You’ve exhausted all your resources and now it’s time to embrace the journey I have for you.”
What!  Embrace the itching?  Are you kidding me??  How can I live like this?
“My grace is all you need.  My power works best in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12.9 NLT)
Could God be asking me not to just endure this journey, to put up with the itching (which would be a feat in itself) BUT (and it was a big but) to welcome and embrace it?
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.  “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.  For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”  (Isaiah 55.8-9 NLT)
He was asking the IMPOSSIBLE of me!
How could I do it?  Embrace the sleepless nights?  Restless days?  Unendurable misery? Intolerable pain?
I knew I couldn’t but He COULD! 
God wanted me to Trust Him.  To jump off the cliff into His waiting arms and KNOW His power in my weakness.  He had a better way for me.  A journey of faith, beyond my comprehension.  A journey I would NEVER have chosen for myself. 
For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD.  They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  In those days when you pray, I will listen.  If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.  I will be found by you,” says the LORD.  (Jeremiah 29.11-14 NLT)
Have you been fighting the journey God has for you?  Questioning His goodness?
What is God calling you to embrace? 
The more you wrestle and fight the journey God has for you, the more blessings you will miss . . .  
Your faith will be shallow, your joy insignificant and your love trivial.  God desires so much more for you.  Will you TRUST Him and EMBRACE the journey?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Worship and Obedience . . . Can't Have One Without the Other

I’ve been learning a lot about obedience and worship this summer.  It’s been a remarkable journey.
There’s been an area of my life that I have been stiff arming God.  I’ve surrendered so many other areas of my life, it's been easy to rationalize keeping this one to myself. 
But there’s this thing about surrender . . . it’s not really surrender unless it’s complete. 

If only half of an army’s troops surrenders in battle, is it really a surrender?

This wrestling with God has been going on for quite some time. 
God patiently asking and me . . .  defiantly refusing.
 I’ve been miserable, tormented and harassed by my own thoughts.  I’ve rationalized, justified and defended my stance.  And where has it got me?  Stalled out.  Ineffective.  Unproductive.
Finally, late this spring . . . I dropped to my knees and waved the white flag of surrender.  Feeling like I was stepping into a place of bondage but knowing I couldn’t live like this any longer. 
And what a surprise God had waiting for me in the letting go!
My object of surrender was with eating better and exercising.
As I released the grip and began to ask God what it would look like for me to exercise,  I came to the conclusion that running was the best option for me.  Can I just say, I HATE RUNNING!  But I was ALL IN and I wasn’t looking back.
I bought an app for my phone which helps an individual work up to running a 3K and so began my journey . . .   The app had me running for two minutes straight – something I never thought I could do.  I got winded just running to the mailbox and back but remember, I was all in, so I thought I would give it a try.

I ran my first two minutes and made it!  Never thought I could but the surprises weren’t over yet.  The plan had me running two minutes and walking three minutes, four times over.  While I was running the first two minutes, I thought . . . I’ll never be able to run two more minutes.  But I walked for three minutes, caught my breath and started again.  It was on my third two minute run that it happened . . .
Every step - excruciating, each breath – agonizing.  I knew I wasn’t going to make it.   I cried out to God, “Lord, You’ve got to help me.  Give me strength for each step.  Because I’m doing this for You . . .”
I’m doing this for You!  It echoed in my head.  I’m doing this for You. 
I’m being obedient and in my obedience I’m worshipping You.  My running is worship!
That was a new concept.  I’d never thought that my actual running could be worship.  Previously my thinking had gone kind of like this:   I worship God by listening to music or praying while I run.  It never dawned on me, until that moment that my obedience was worship!  My running was worship! 
It changed everything for me.  I’m not running to lose weight.  I’m not running to look better or feel healthier.  I’m running to worship my God.  To bring glory and honor to Him through my obedience. 
Clarifying.  Purposeful.  Satisfying.
What about you?  Is there an area in your life where you’re stiff arming God? 
For me it was exercise and eating right but maybe for you it’s the things you’re allowing to fill your mind.  Or maybe you’re refusing to forgive someone.  Or you’re holding tightly to material things.  Whatever it is, I challenge you to surrender it to God.  Pry your fingers off and let go!
2 Kings 17:36-38 (NLT) says, “But worship only the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt with great strength and a powerful arm. Bow down to him alone, and offer sacrifices only to him. Be careful at all times to obey the decrees, regulations, instructions, and commands that he wrote for you.” 
God doesn’t want your worship without obedience. They go hand in hand – you can’t have one without the other. 
(Note:  This weekend I will be running my first ever 5K race and I'm now running thirty minutes straight -  it's a miracle!  Truly a miracle – only by God’s grace am I able to do this.  God is good.  May He receive all the glory and honor and praise.)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Dare to Believe!

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
    the God of Israel is our fortress.  Psalm 46.7 (NLT)

In first Samuel, chapter one we are introduced to Hannah, a woman unable to bare children.  While she is at her yearly visit to the temple she makes a vow to Jehovah Sabaoth that if He will give her a child, she will give him back to God for all of his days. (1 Samuel 1.11)
It’s interesting that she doesn’t use the name Jehovah Jireh (The LORD provides) or Jehovah Rapha (The LORD heals).  Instead she chooses to use a name that proclaims the might and power of God.  Jehovah Sabaoth; the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.
Hannah called on the LORD of Heaven’s Armies in her time of great need because she understood through His might and power, nothing was impossible with God.  By calling on Jehovah Sabaoth she was reminding God of His superiority over all things and declaring her faith in His almighty power to open her womb.

Do we dare to believe in the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, the God of the Impossible, the Supreme Ruler over EVERYTHING, like Hannah did?  Or are we secretly afraid He can’t or won’t come through for us? 
Do we dare pray like Hannah, asking God for the seemingly impossible? 

This past year a group of ladies from our church decided to take God at His Word and pray the impossible.  At the end of the eighth month period we had twenty-eight “impossible” prayers answered!
What insurmountable burden are you carrying?  Will you choose to believe like Hannah and pray the impossible?

Oh LORD of Heaven’s Armies, teach me to trust; not just say that I believe but readily and wholeheartedly take You at Your Word and pray the impossible.  Give me eyes to see how you will answer.  Amen.
Action Point:  Begin today to pray for the “impossible” request in your life that you have doubted would ever get answered.  Pray daily and look expectantly.  Don’t limit God.  You just might be amazed at how He will answer your prayer.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Letting Go of the Trash

On our last full day in the Dominican Republic we parked our bus and ventured out into the blistering summer sun.  We made our way down a narrow foot path with small hovels on either side. 

There were women sitting on the ground pulling fabric scraps through a plastic matt – the final product would be a rug for them to sell in order to put food on their table.  A little naked baby sat in a bath tub next to his mother as she worked. 

We continued our journey until we came upon a large garbage dump.  The smell was . . . beyond explanation.  More hovels surrounded the garbage. 

Women and children had joined our group and we bowed our heads and prayed for the people who eked out a living here in this horrible place. 

It was more than this American born, middle class girl could take in.  I was numb.  How could people live day in and day out in a place like this? 

We turned to leave and I saw a tiny little girl walking barefoot in the trash.  My heart broke into a thousand pieces and I couldn’t hold  it together in any longer.  Tears poured down my face.  


Since returning home, the scenario of that little girl walking barefoot in the trash has been running over and over in my mind.  And as I thought on that vivid picture . . . 

I felt God say to me, “Kristi, you’re like that little girl wandering in the trash.” 
 “Long ago, I picked you up out of the garbage of your own making and called you My own but you continue to return to the trash looking for satisfaction and fulfillment instead of looking to me.  You pick through the rubbish of other people’s opinions and values hoping to find lasting love, acceptance and peace.”

Unlike that little girl, I have a choice. 
And. So. Do. You.

Psalm 113.5-7 says, "Who can be compared with the LORD our God, who is enthroned on high?  He stoops to look down on heaven and on earth.  He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump." 

If you’re a follower of Jesus, God has lifted you out of the garbage dump.  He set you free.  He calls you to sit at His banquet table feasting on food that gives life to your soul.
And yet, how easy it is to return to the garbage dump of what is comfortable and familiar.  We choose to believe that the next relationship will meet our need for love.  The next promotion will give us the value we are searching for and the next piece of clothing we purchase will give us the approval we hunger for.  We choose to eat the filth and desperation of the trash.
Psalm 40.2-3 says, "The Lord lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and mire.  He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.  He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see what He has done and be amazed.  They will put their trust in the Lord."
That day we spent with the children of the trash has forever changed me. A song those beautiful children sang at the top of their lungs keeps playing over and over in my mind. 

 I'm trading my sorrow
I'm trading my shame
I'm laying it down for the joy of the Lord

I'm trading my sickness
I'm trading my pain
I'm laying it down for the joy of the Lord 
-Darrell Evans

God wants to trade your sorrow for His joy, your shame for His forgiveness and your desperation for His all consuming LOVE. 

Will you let go of the trash you’ve been clinging to, and grab hold of the ABUNDANT LIFE He offers?