Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sovereignty of God

Then Job replied to the Lord: "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. Job 42:1-2

My little Oxford dictionary defines “thwarted” as frustrated, failed, stopped, baffled, blocked, or stymied. If I hadn’t looked up the word, I would have interpreted that scripture as “God’s plans cannot be stopped.” But the definition revealed more to me.

I can be pretty determined at times. And some of those determined times require perseverance which generally comes with frustration. James 1 says the perseverance is a good thing because it helps us to become mature and complete. In other words, each trial in our life can move us closer to the way God intends us to be.

With that thought in mind, I am amazed as I study God’s sovereignty this week: the way he IS.

Sometimes, it is easy for me to say God is big and in control. That’s a fact. But how big is he? How in control is he? This is what blows my mind.

God is so big and so in control that he doesn’t even get frustrated when others mess with his plans. He knows, without a doubt, that he is in control of everything.

What has you baffled today? Persevere my friend, God is in control. His plan will not fail.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Trusting God with Failure

The biggest leap in leadership for me was learning to trust God with my failures. Becoming a Christ follower or even accepting a leadership position does not make us perfect. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Scripture is full of references to the expectation that we are to continue to grow[1], mature[2], be built together[3], and to work out our salvation[4]. My experience tells me that we seldom have growth spurts when we attempt to grow alone or behind a mask of perfectionism.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned from being willing to risk failure.

  • I see God’s power made perfect in my weakness
  • I learn to recognize God’s voice – sometimes because it wasn’t him speaking
  • Others see their value in the team effort
  • I’m not stressed over the end results or others perceptions of a project
  • I generally learn a lot more from failure than I do from success
  • People offer feedback on what they don’t like a lot easier than what they do like and feedback is very helpful in getting to know people
  • Failure keeps me humble

All of these things help me to stay focused on God’s sovereignty. When I recognize how much greater he is and how dependent I am on him, that is when I learn to trust him to pick me up and help me to stand again. Each time I trust him, I grow in my ability to trust him with bigger things.

I’d like to walk on water someday. And I think I might be getting closer to that experience with him.

Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Philippians 3:16

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Prayer - What is It?

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you may have heard that God always answers prayer. Some may tell you “his response is yes, no, wait or sometimes he has a better idea that is completely different.”

I’ve never really liked that statement. It’s vague and makes my relationship with God sound like a computer calculation.

Input: data à Data processed by God à Output: answer.

If we don’t like the result, we either input new data or we begin troubleshooting the computers processing procedure until we either give up or get the output we want.

The material and experience of Moms in Touch International is teaching me a lot about prayer. Fern Nichols in Igniting a Passion to Pray discusses Spirit-directed prayer in this way:

“The Holy Spirit within us moves in our hearts, initiates our requests, and shows us how we should pray. Therefore, the focus is on God and not on the approval of others.”

Her intent with this comment is to help women feel more comfortable with praying aloud in small groups. However, I see something even bigger in her statement for even those who are comfortable with praying aloud in groups.

Prayer does not begin with data entry. It begins with listening to the Holy Spirit.

Two questions that make a difference in my prayer life:

  1. Do I listen before I speak?
  2. Are my words a response to what I’ve heard or just data entry submitted to God?

I am convinced that when we pray according to the Spirit rather than the flesh, God’s answer is always a strong and unchangeable “yes.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Mind Control

For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:6

What’s on your mind today? How often do you think about your own death or how often do you avoid thinking of it?

My dear friend, if the thought of death frightens you, let me invite you to set your mind on the Spirit. You see, all the things of the flesh will one day come to an end. So if your mind is set on the things of this physical world and its current pleasures, you cannot enjoy true life and peace which comes only from being united with Christ.

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. Romans 8:5

Monday, April 09, 2007

Life Giving (part 2)

What was the price?
I’ve heard all my life that Jesus paid the price for our sins. It has often been indicated that the price was death on the cross or at least that’s how it comes across. But was Jesus’ physical death the punishment?

Fact: Unless your name is Elijah, there is nearly a 100% chance that you will die a physical death. (ok, I don’t know what happens exactly with those who are alive when Christ returns but there’ll be some physical change.)

Another piece of Sunday school info I learned at some point was that Jesus went to Hell sometime between breathing his last breath on the cross and his resurrection “on the third day.” Oh, and don’t forget that Hell is almost always taught in mainstream Christian churches as a horrible place of punishment. That’s important here. Of course, we are also taught that heaven has streets paved with gold. Honestly, that never impressed me as a kid and still doesn’t today.

Putting those bits of church chatter together, I’ve assumed that when Jesus died on the cross he went to a place of fire and experienced all the gruesome stuff we are taught to picture with the ugly guy in a red suit, weird ears and a funny looking pitch fork. Then, presto, Jesus returned from that terrible place and walked on the earth for 40 days. Interestingly, some people didn’t recognize him – I still don’t understand that one. But after 2,000 years of witnesses descriptions, some people still don’t recognize him.

Now here’s my most recent revelation on this topic – the punishment Jesus took on our behalf had absolutely nothing to do with physical pain.

Look around you. Everything you experience with the five physical senses is created by God and for God. Everything God created is good – right? Says so in scripture (1Ti 4:4)

Is Hell good?
Whatever Hell is, I think everyone agrees that it is most likely not a place that would have a five star AAA rating.

Look at the cross. When did the most dramatic things happen – you know, like the earthquake and total darkness in the middle of the day? Read it in Matthew 27:45-56. It was in the mysterious darkness that Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” That’s huge. Don’t ever forget that Jesus said that to God the Father.

Then what happened when Jesus “gave up his spirit” – died? Oh, go read it. It’s too exciting for me to tell you all of it. Look at Matthew 27:51-53. The curtain in the temple tore in two, yes, but there was more. A door was opened and some holy people came out.

Know what I think? They came out because Jesus walked in – into Hell. The forsaken place where the presence of God is totally void.

Light - good; Darkness – not good
Genesis 1 tells us that darkness was over the surface of the deep in the beginning. Then God spoke light into being. This is not the sun. That comes later. God saw the light was good and he separated the light from the darkness. Yes, it goes on to distinguish day from night but this light was not the sun, moon, and stars. The wording implies to me that this darkness was not good. Nor was it created. It just was. It was there in the beginning and God added light – his own source of light.

When Jesus was hanging on the cross, it wasn’t night time but there was darkness. Have you experienced that kind of darkness? Does that give you a clue as to what it means to feel forsaken?

I’ve always wanted to say “no way, Jesus wasn’t forsaken by God. That’s impossible.” But I now believe he was. That was the punishment. That was the price he paid. Jesus left the presence of God so that we would never be forsaken (abandoned); so that he could always be with us even until the end of time. (Matthew 28:20) Now remember, Jesus was in very nature God (Philippians 2:6). Is it possible that at this point, Jesus gave up even the nature of God? Is it possible that Jesus, the Son of God, in his purest sense is the light that appeared in Genesis 1:3? Not human, yet placed into existence from the spoken word of God the Father (as we know him).

Without God’s source of light in us, we are darkness – nothingness, formless, meaningless, chaos. In other words, without God you just exist. That’s it. While you are here on earth you enjoy all the good physical pleasures God has created. But when this physical life is over, you just exist forever and ever and ever in nothingness. No rest by moonlight. No warmth by the sun. No coolness of a breeze. You have an awareness but with nothing to be aware of except maybe memories of what you had. Wouldn’t that be Hell to you?

Have you heard that Jesus set the captives free?
That’s exactly what he did when he died. He left the presence of God to set the holy people free from Hell - those who had died a physical death before his own physical death. He broke the bond between sin and death by taking the power of God – the spoken word of God - into that darkness. Wow! That’s exciting even as I type it! Those who recognized the light responded to him, uh, it. Those who didn’t recognize him, I imagine, turned away in fear and remained in their chosen state of nothingness.

Side note: If Jesus was in human form at this point, I don’t imagine any of those existing beings would have turned away in fear, they would have all jumped on the opportunity to get out of Hell free. As the spoken word of God rather than the compassionate human being, this Light would not have recognized those who blended into the darkness.

Then Christ returned from Hell. Wow! Let’s hear a little excitement out there. He would never need to ever go back there. Why? Because now he was returning to his place in the full presence of God where he would then send the Light in the form of the Holy Spirit to anyone who chooses to open the door to their physical life. Freeing them from the penalty of sin – that penalty being separation from the life-giving God who is always good.

A Living Sacrifice
In my last post I asked, “Did Jesus expect me to follow him in death?” Yes, I believe he did. But not physical death as we understand it. Although it is very physical. Anyone can sacrifice life for death if they believe in something strong enough – even if it isn’t truth. Real sacrifice that is pleasing and acceptable is sacrificing control of your physical life without looking to be rewarded for what you’ve done.

Who gave the Lord something which the Lord must pay back? Everything is from him and by him and for him. Glory belongs to him forever! Amen! Brothers and sisters, in view of all we have just shared about God's compassion, I encourage you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, dedicated to God and pleasing to him. This kind of worship is appropriate for you. Romans 11:35 – 12:1 God’s Word

The only way to be a living sacrifice is to invite the life-giving Spirit of God into the darkness of your nothingness. Jesus took light into the darkness of death. Will you open the door of your life? Will you let him separate the darkness and fill you with that which is good?

Follow the Light
It’s simple really. Hold your hands out, palms up. Oh, come on just do it. This is your spiritual act of worship in the physical existence you have been given.

Now speak these words out loud – yes, out loud. Speaking to God is powerful:

Holy God, you are giver of life. I have attempted to create life in myself. Forgive me for playing God with all that you have provided in me. Please separate the darkness from me. Come into my physical life with your light. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Ps 139:23-24)

Stop and listen. You’ve just asked God to point out something to you. Let him do that.
With each thing revealed, ask his forgiveness. Don’t worry, he is gracious and merciful, he won’t point out everything at once. As you grow in relationship with him, he will continually show you the next step on the path of everlasting life. That’s why daily time with God is so important.

Profess out loud: Thank you Jesus. You were forsaken so that I may never be forsaken. Be the Leader of my life. I’ll be the follower. Not by my power, not by my might but by your Holy Spirit alive in me.

Now go tell a Christian friend what you’ve done. And celebrate your new life in Christ. For you have just offered to be a living sacrifice. If you have no one else to tell, email me, please! I’d love to celebrate with you. I’ve been praying for you already.

If you know someone that might benefit from reading this, edit it to your delight and pass it on as your own. (I don’t always give that copyright permission. But with this post you have it.)

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Life Giving (part 1)

Tis Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter. If I had been a disciple of Jesus in that time, this would be perhaps the most difficult day of my life. I had given up everything to follow this man. Now he was dead. What did that mean for me? Would others pity me, would I be a laughing stock, would I forever be an outcast in the religious community – an even greater outcast than I was before I knew him.

Why did he have to die? And why such a death as crucifixion? A criminal’s death. What does that make me? An accessory to his crime? Or maybe a victim of his crime.

I gave up everything to follow him. Well, everything except my ability to breath and live a somewhat comfortable life. He gave that up. He could have had it all. He could have had multitudes following him. He could have had the place of a king! Wealth, power, all the pleasures of this world. Was that I was hoping to find in him?

He chose death. Death on a cross. Did he expect me to follow him in his death? Am I also to give up my physical life?

What was so bad about the animal sacrifices the priests had made for years? God accepted them, right? Oh, no. No, no, no. As a follows of Christ are we to give an annual sacrifice of ourselves – of human life?

Would Jesus ask me to also choose death?

Today is the Sabbath. I will rest as I mourn for this man whom I considered to be a great teacher. He called me friend. No one else has ever accepted me the way he did. What have I learned from him over the past three years? What will I do with what I’ve learned?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Stumbling Blocks

The difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use themAnonymous

Oh wow, isn’t that so true! And have you seen positive people use the stumbling block as adventure and learning opportunities while negative people stare and complain about whose fault the stumbling block is?

I’d like to think I’m always on the positive side but I know I’m not. I’m continually learning and being reminded ever so gently by God’s Holy Spirit that I must keep my eyes on God, not on the stumbling blocks, if I want to finish the race he has set out for me. (Acts 20:24) What’s on your mind today? Are you stumbling or stepping?

“He will be a place of safety for you. But he will be a rock that makes people trip and a stumbling block for both kingdoms of Israel. He will be a trap and a snare for those who live in Jerusalem.” Isaiah 8:14 God’s Word

Monday, April 02, 2007

Hard Drive Crash - April Fool!

They got me! It was pre-planned, prepared days in advance, and a nine year old kept a secret for several days.

My son and husband downloaded a screensaver that makes it appear the hard drive has crashed. One glitch, April Fools day fell on a Sunday this year and I try not to look at my laptop on Sunday. Well, this created an unacceptable situation for my son. So he decided to pretend that he had used my laptop for something and discovered the error message. His “mom, your computer isn’t working” drew my calm and suspicious response – “my computer doesn’t work on Sunday.”

His award winning performance got me to my office to see the error message. Having just experienced the hard drive crash scenario in December, I will admit my heart trembled slightly. But I chose to assume he was celebrating his favorite holiday – April Fools.

As I reflected on the “fun” joke, God reminded me that Satan enjoys pulling Fools pranks everyday with much higher stakes.

Are you seeing error messages in life that make your heart pause? Smile, you’re on Satan’s candid camera. Although it is no joking matter for him – he desires to destroy you and humiliate you forever. God, however, has provided the truth. Regardless of your circumstances you can laugh. Jesus is Risen and therefore we have hope in all things.

Cartoon used with Permission of Bonnie Fraser

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the mission:
PROCLAIM the good news; HEAL the sick and oppressed; BRING JUSTICE
~ Luke 4:16-20

Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing (John 14:12)
~ Jesus 

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