Monday, October 20, 2014

God's Mark


Do I have the mark of God on my heart?
In the Old Testament of the Bible God asked the children of Israel to be circumcised as a way to identify them as His covenant people.   “All must be circumcised. Your bodies will bear the mark of my everlasting covenant. (Exodus 17.9-13 NLT)  But frequently throughout the Bible, God constantly had to remind them that it wasn’t enough to just have this outward sign, their hearts needed to reflect this covenant relationship as well.
In Romans we see Paul admonishing the Jewish Christians for taking pride in their position and in their knowledge and yet having hearts that were far from God.  (Romans 2.17-24)  We would say they were self-righteous.  In other words, they were in the business of making themselves right in the eyes of God.  Ouch!
What had happened to move them in this direction?  These were followers of Jesus.  Jews, who at one point had acknowledged that the only way to eternal life was through Jesus Christ, not the law they had grown up with.  But they fell back into their list of rules and superiority and neglected their own hearts.  Their place of safety became their knowledge and their rules.
It’s easy to point the finger at these Jewish believers and wonder how they could be so blind.  And yet . . . we do the same thing.  We find safety in rules and regulations.  And we embrace the visible, material and superficial. 
John Ortberg in his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted says this, The great danger that arises when we don’t experience authentic transformation is that we will settle for what might be called pseudo-transformation.  We know that as Christians we are called to “come out and be separate,” that our faith and spiritual commitment should make us different somehow.  But if we are not marked by greater and greater amounts of love and joy, we will inevitably look for substitute ways of distinguishing ourselves from those who are not Christians.  This deep pattern is almost inescapable for religious people:  If we do not become changed from the inside-out we will be tempted to find external methods to satisfy our need to feel that we’re different from those outside the faith.  If we cannot be transformed, we will settle for being informed or conformed.”
Paul says in Romans 2.29, “A true Jew is one whose heart is right with God.  And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit.  And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not people.

I love how The Messsage says this, “It’s the mark of God on your heart, not of a knife on your skin, which makes a Jew.
Do we have God’s mark on our hearts or are we settling for outward conformity to appease our guilt and help us fit into the religious community?
Is our life marked by more and more love, more and more patience,  and more and more joy or do we gravitate to the list of things we can check off to feel okay about ourselves?  Are we trying to make ourselves right or allowing God to do it?
Self-producing righteousness causes us to become infatuated with what other people think.  Consumed with desire for people’s praise.  Obsessed with how we are being perceived.
Are you settling for outside conformity or inside transformation? 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Rabbit Hole

In the book Alice in Wonderland, we watch as Alice follows a rabbit down his hole into a make believe world. 

This fairy tale isn’t just for kids . . . we adults often chase "bunnies" down their hole into an imaginary world.  Let me explain . . .
http://www.freeimages.com/photo/1353834


This winter I was standing in the middle of the Atrium at our church and glimpsed my husband sitting on a couch over in the corner.  As I looked more closely, I noticed his ear pressed to his phone and the look on his face told me it wasn’t good. 

I felt my heart rise into my throat and my thoughts raced to a very dark place . . . MY SON IS DEAD!  He’s been killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.  In the space of seconds, I went from wondering what we were going to eat that night to planning a funeral right there in the middle of the atrium. 



As I started to charge over to where my husband sat, I felt the Lord say, “STOP!  Don’t go down that rabbit hole.  You have no idea what the call is about, why are you going to the worst place possible?  Why are you panicking over something you don’t even know has happened?”
In a blink, I dived down the hole into an imaginary world of my own making.
As I stood there, rooted to the floor, a verse came rushing into my mind,  “. . . we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10.5 (NIV)   

The challenge:  to refuse to go down into the abyss, to reject the inherent desire to get sucked into the whirling vortex of dark thoughts. 
We always have a choice regarding our thoughts . . . 
Will we take them captive or will they take us captive?
But HOW do we take them captive when they feel like a force of nature we can’t control?  Seriously, how do we keep our fears from taking us captive when they are overwhelming and all-consuming?
By camping out on TRUTH. 
Philippians 4.8 in the Message says it like this . . . Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things TRUE, NOBLE, REPUTABLE, AUTHENTIC, COMPELLING GRACIOUS – The BEST, not the worst; the BEAUTIFUL, not the ugly; things to PRAISE, not things to curse. 
We take our thoughts captive by turning to Truth and filling our minds with what is good and right. 
2 Corinthians 10.4-6 (MSG)  says, We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.  Our tools are at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity. 
Are we fitting our loose thoughts and emotions into the structure of a life shaped by Christ or are we allowing them to run rampant in our lives? 
It’s our choice, to take them captive or allow them to take us captive.  We will never experience true, victorious freedom in Christ until we learn to imprison in our thoughts and surrender them to Him.

Oh Lord, we need your help!  We cannot stop the thoughts from coming but we can take them captive.  Give us Your power and strength to refuse to journey down the hole into our make believe world.  Teach us to follow You, the Author of Truth. Amen.
 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

when rewards become gods

http://www.freeimages.com/photo/942138
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


http://www.freeimages.com/photo/875452
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.

http://www.freeimages.com/photo/1381436
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.)