Friday, July 18, 2014

Morning Thoughts

I woke up this morning with this verse in mind:
"His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.
You have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much. 
Enter into the joy of your master.' "
Matthew 25:23

I can't even remember the last time I read this verse, so I'm not sure why it came to my mind this morning, but it did get me thinking. This verse is found twice in the parable of the talents. This is a parable about a master who was going away for a while, so he entrusted some of his money to a few of his servants. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one. The servants who were given five and two doubled the money by the time their master returned. The servant given one, buried his in the ground, for fear of losing it. Okay, so here is a parable about money and within this parable we find the verse above not once, but twice as a response to the two who doubled the money they were given to look after. Naturally, we look at this parable and this verse and think Jesus is talking about what we do with our money or treasure.

Only this morning, when this verse came to mind, immediately I thought - "What if this has nothing to do with money at all?" You see, money is OUR treasure. It is something we value and hold up as something of worth. It would have been valuable to the master spoken of in this parable, which is why he was pleased when his servants used it and did well with it. But this is a parable. Jesus used parables to teach about heavenly principles, though many missed the point. I fear we are missing the point. 

I have even heard some teach that it's not necessarily speaking about money, but it could be the talents God has given us, or even children or a myriad of other things that are indeed blessings. But what if it's none of those things at all?

What if Jesus is speaking what He considers valuable? In this parable it is clear that God is the Master represented, so wouldn't the treasure he entrusted to his servants follow with what God considers treasure? 

So what is God's treasure that He rewards those who use it well? Faith. 

Consider the words in the verse "good and faithful servant", "faithful over a little".

He is rewarding those who have faith. What is He rewarding them with? More faith. 

Ok, so maybe that's a little confusing, but hang with me here. When is God most glorified in our lives? When we have faith. 

We can look at this and think, "Well, the times I need to have the most faith are in times of trial and suffering. Does that mean He's going to reward me with more suffering?" Maybe. That's probably not the answer you want to hear, but if God is most glorified in your life in times of suffering, and that is when you exhibit faith most clearly, than yeah it might mean more suffering. Let's be honest, this is probably true for most of us, but that does not discourage me. Why? Because I think of the apostle Paul, and the many other missionaries and believers who have suffered tremendously because of their faith, but through it all, God was glorified.

So what if it does mean suffering? We could have the attitude of Paul and say "For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." - 2 Corinthians 12:10. Or we could allow that to scare us, because, let's face it, we don't like having to suffer.

This morning I woke up with these thoughts on my mind. Again, I hadn't read that passage in God knows how long - seriously, He is the only one who knows how long, but with it these thoughts of Paul and suffering. This may seem somewhat depressing to some, but I was encouraged. I was encouraged because of the truth that when I am faithful, He rewards with more faith. That may include more times of trial, hardship, suffering, etc. to exhibit that faith, but I'm ok with that. Because He is ALWAYS faithful.

Monday, July 7, 2014

What is to Come?

There's been a lot going on in my heart and mind lately. I've been tired and very frustrated. Not because of the size of my family, or that I'm pregnant, or busy, or whatever.

I'm tired of feeling like I'm missing out on the real purpose God has for my life.

I'm frustrated because I'm not quite sure yet what that means exactly.

I look around at all the stuff we have, and while yes, I recognize the blessing, I often feel overwhelmed. I don't NEED more stuff. Heck, I don't even want more stuff. Yet, it feels like that's what we live for, to get to this point where we can achieve more, do more, get more. I'm tired of it.

In my Scripture reading, sermons I've been listening to, books I've been reading and teaching I've sat under recently, it seems like God is just pounding in the same message over and over - "I've got something for you worth far more. Something that is going to require that you be willing to part with the stuff, separate with the familiar, and walk in faith down a new path. Something that will require that you trust me with the safety of your children, with provision for your family, with the very needs of your soul."

This may sound scary to some, but I'm excited for what is to come, so much so that I'm frustrated it's not clear to me yet.

For a long time, I've made excuses for why I didn't do certain things. While missions has always been heavy on my heart, I've made the excuse that it's just not the season of my life for that, because it would be difficult for me to go on a missions trip having to find care for my children while I'm gone and what not. Or while reaching out and getting to know my neighbors better has been on my heart, there's always something that "gets in the way" of me inviting them over. I'm sick of making excuses. I know I'm missing out on what God has for me. I know I'm not giving Him all He wants from me.

I don't want to be held back by fear, busyness, wrong goals, self-centeredness, fatigue or excuses.

I want to live a real Spirit-filled life. A life that allows God to transform how I look at others - everyone, my kids, neighbors, husband, people I don't know, family, etc. A life that changes the way I treat others, because I see them through God's eyes and not my own. A life that is lived solely for the purpose of serving others and modeling Christ to those around me. A life that is focused on God and His kingdom and the real purpose of life here on earth. A life that is missional - seeking the lost, not avoiding them - for the purpose of sharing Christ.

Even now I struggle putting into words exactly what God has laid so heavy on my heart. Maybe because I'm not sure yet what exactly this is going to look like. I just know it means HUGE changes. Some of you who know me, may not see it as huge changes, but the weight of it, the heaviness of it, tells me it's big. And I want to be ready. I want to be willing. I don't want to get in the way any more. Christ lives in me, which means this life is no longer mine. It is for His purpose only. My prayer is that He will make that true of my life. That it will be only for His glory that I live, speak, act.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Letting Go of Expectations

We all have these expectations of life. They may be things like what a friendship is supposed to be like, how much money we should have, how we think someone else should treat us, how much time something should take, how are children should behave, what are social status should be, what our job should be, etc. The list could go on and on and on. So what is my point? Well, let me ask you a question, How many of your expectations you have created for life have been satisfied?

How many things have actually turned out the way you expected them to? Maybe your are fortunate enough to name a few. But I bet if we really thought long and hard about all the expectations we've created for our lives, we would all probably have to say very few, if any, have been satisfied in the way we expected them to be.

I'm beginning to learn to let go. This isn't easy, because it means I have to change my way of thinking about everything. And I do mean EVERYTHING.

 Not everything has to be done exactly the way I would have done it or the way I think is best. Other people can do it their way and you know what, it's ok. This became most evident to me in the area of cleaning the house. We have a lot of people who live in this house, so it's not easy to keep up on the mess around here. Even with help it's a struggle. But I realized I do need help, so my kids do a lot of cleaning. I teach them how, and of course I expect their best, but that's just it - THEIR best, not mine. The only way I can appreciate them helping is if I accept their best. I could try to control how well they clean, but really how effective will that be when they are still relatively young? I'm just glad I don't have to do it all. (By the way, this concept goes for my husband as well. Let's be real, he just doesn't see the mess the way I do.)

Relationships are just another area I've realized that having expectations sets me up for disappointment. I am not by any means suggesting that we become doormats to be trampled on, I am rather noting the fact that people are not perfect and that includes me. When I think about the issues I've had with friendships or in my marriage or even with my children, I realize that MOST of the time it was because I had set up these expectations of what I thought they should do in a given situation and they did not respond to that situation in the way I thought they would. I mean, I really don't know why because clearly I already had THE BEST scenario already planned out. All they had to do was just read my mind and follow the steps exactly as I was making them up as the situation played out. Couldn't be that hard, right? (Note sarcasm). Other issues have come from them expecting me to respond a certain way, and of course I didn't. So I quit. To some extent I have to hold certain standards, but I shouldn't expect people to live up to them all of the time, because that my friends is where the trouble begins. I need to let go of these ridiculous expectations of what I think my level of friendship with someone should be, or what that friendship should look like, or what exactly my husband should be like by now (Come on, it's been almost 12 yrs, you would think I would have figured that out by now).

Social status, money, living standard, whatever you want to call it, I've let go of where I think I should be at this point. Clearly, God has other plans for our family. I think about the fact that according to US standards, we are poor. I do not mean that in the exaggerated sense we hear people use all the time, I mean it in the we qualify for food stamps, medical, whatever other type of government assistance is available. While we do use some of this help, we do not take advantage of all these that we technically qualify for. Instead, we choose to sacrifice certain things we do not need, which comes as a huge shock for people, but trust me, you would be surprised to know what you can actually live without. We rely on hand me down and garage sale clothes and reuse most of our school supplies, but is this really poor? This country we live in considers us to be among the poor, yet I look around my house and I see the plenty. We live in a four bedroom house that is fully furnished. We have far more clothes than we actually NEED. I'm sitting here typing on a computer, my own computer, one of four in our house. There are two cars sitting outside in my driveway, not new, but still we have two, and my husband doesn't even have to drive to work. Maybe we don't drive brand new vehicles, subscribe to hundreds of cable channels, own expensive smart phones or buy hardly anything at full price, but we are a far cry from what poor is really. I'm not trying to put anyone on a guilt trip about how they talk about their finances, because I still make "we're poor" jokes and remarks from time to time, but I really had to change my perspective on the life I live if I wanted any chance at being content. Because being content in my situation is not about the situation I'm in, it's about my perspective on that situation. We could be a lot worse off, honestly. We still have a home to live in and we eat multiple times a day. That alone is enough for me to stop my whining at those times when I'm starting to not feel satisfied because we are not where I expected we would be at this point.

My womb is another area I've really had to let go of my expectations. Aside from the fact that I have been wrong about the gender of baby we were expecting in the past, the fact that we are pregnant now is so far from what I expected. So those of you who know that we do not prevent pregnancies in any way are probably scratching your heads wondering how I didn't expect this. The truth is, I truly believed that after I had Gideon (my first son), that through a crazy remark that came out of nowhere God was telling me we were only going to have six and specifically three girls and three boys which is what we have currently. After that came true, I expected to be done. Our pregnancy with Nehemiah actually was a surprise, but I was almost not really surprised to find out we lost him, because of this. I know this sounds crazy. It sounds crazy to me too, just so you realize I am not that far off from normal, but I can't just ignore the fact that came out in that crazy remark actually did happen, and I don't believe in coincidences. That brings us to our current pregnancy. When I found out I was pregnant, for weeks I was kind of expecting to miscarry again. Even though all is going well in the pregnancy so far, I still don't know what will happen, but that's the point. How can I have an expectation either way at this point? In the 9 times I have been pregnant (including this time), we have had six healthy babies and two miscarriage. This one is still yet to be determined. So far, it is looking like another healthy baby will be born, so I am preparing for that. Yet, after losing a child, when all was going well, I also realize that I have to remain prepared for the possible.

Letting go of expectations may seem like I'm just becoming a hippy or something, or maybe that I've lost my mind. Maybe I have lost my mind, but I've found peace in fully trusting God. When I create all these expectations for my life, I put God in this box and say, "You need to work out these situations in exactly this way, because I've already figured out what would be best for me." How can I possibly even know what would be best for me? I do not gain the wisdom until I have lived through it, and even then I'm often a little slow on the uptake.

Besides, I'm tired of being stressed out living a dissatisfied life because things aren't going my way. It's frustrating. Even as I write this I think about how this first week of summer break is definitely not meeting my expectation of what I thought our summer break would be like - I'm pretty sure I said this isn't really an easy lesson to learn and I'm still learning to let go. I always have loved to learn, so I welcome the lessons.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Almost Half-Way Review

It's about half way into the year and I think it's time to review how I've been doing with the goals I've made.

The word I chose for this year is PRAYER. I've never been one to do well with prayer lists. Mainly, because I start to get bored praying for the same things over and over again. Well, I knew when I started out this year with word being PRAYER that I was really going to be challenged in how I pray. This was so true when it came to a prayer list. Not that I think everyone needs to make a list and pray through it each day, but it was something I needed to be challenged to do. There has been times when boredom has definitely set in and the prayer becomes, "God you know what's written here and what the needs are, but quite honestly, I'm too tired to go through them one by one." After a few days of that, God gently reminds me that this is why I needed to be challenged in this area. I am so thankful for those reminders that help me get back on track.

Another way I have been challenged this year through PRAYER is to pray for a specific person, every day for a week, and then write them a note letting them know they have been prayed for including a little card with the Scripture God leads me to pray for them. Sometimes I don't know the person. Sometimes, I don't know how to pray for them. So I really have to be listening to God and allowing Him to guide me how to pray. This has actually been kind of fun, because God knows exactly what prayers that person needs, and sometimes after they have received their card they tell me that's just what they needed. It's so cool to see God work in that way!

So far, God has shown me how to keep in constant communication with Him, and how to refocus when my brain wants to get off-track when I set aside a time dedicated to prayer. I really need this brain-training.

I also made some other goals for this year, like being healthier. I have been doing great eating much better, but not so great with the exercising until recently. I seem to have no trouble getting out and walking and doing stuff when the weather is nice, but those winter months seem to suck out every ounce of energy I have. So at least the exercising is going better now that the weather is better. I'll take it, even if it did take me almost half the year. 

Trying to decide how I've been doing on the projects. I think I've been doing better about not starting something new unless I know I can finish it. But I've been really tired for a while, so I haven't been starting too many projects. 

Which brings me to some news: We are pregnant again! 

Obviously after last year, this comes with a smorgasboard of thoughts and emotions, but I think back to how God has worked in my life, over and over again, and I know I do not need to worry about anything. 

I am going to continue on in the second half of this year making a commitment to memorize more Scripture. So many reasons to do so, but for me, I was challenged to have more God's Word hidden in my heart, lest one day our freedom of worship be taken away. Also, it has been so cool to pray Scripture over so many people this year, that I want to have more stored up in my mind for when God wants to me to use it for prayer or to speak to others or to remind me of what He says or for whatever other reason.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Blocked by a Wall of Foil

For the past week, I've been reading in Ezra. I'm not finished yet, but there is such an interesting theme screaming to me off the pages that I can't help but write about it.

Quick Summary: Cyrus King of Persia was "was stirred by the Lord" to call the exiled Israelites back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Not only did he call them back, but he ordered the people to given them anything they needed to help them accomplish this. Then everyone "whose spirit God had stirred" got up and went. When they got there it took two years to finish collecting the needed materials before they could begin to build. Once they finally got started, the other people who lived in the land tried everything they could to prevent them from building. This went on for years until there was a new king. The people wrote to this new king asking for his help to stop them from their work and he issued a decree forcing them to stop. The Israelites then had to wait until the next king was in place before being allowed to continue the rebuilding of the temple. (Italicized words are quoted from the ESV)

So God moved the heart of a unbelieving king to gather His people together. He then moved in the hearts of his people to uproot them from the place they were then living to go back to their homeland to begin rebuilding the temple that had been destroyed. They entered into a land that had been taken over by their enemies. These same people did whatever they could to hinder their work. Eventually they had to stop and wait years before they could continue.

Despite all obstacles, they pressed on.

They knew this is what God had called them to do. We know it too, because it's written right there in Scripture that their spirit was stirred by God to go and do this. Yet, they still had to spend time waiting. They still faced many obstacles. 

The stopping and starting, the constant interference, was not enough to stop them. Why?

How often do we begin to question and doubt if what God called us to do is really what God called us to do, simply because things don't seem to be progressing like they should, or we are facing many obstacles?

I guess what screams to me off the pages of Ezra is when God calls us to do something, when He stirs our spirit to do His work, this does not mean it is all going to go smoothly. It does not mean there will not be obstacles. It does not mean there won't be times of stopping and waiting. 

But what are we supposed to do in those times? 

The Israelites pressed on. They stayed ready. When God called them back to their homeland out of exile, they packed up and left immediately. They were ready. When it took years to gather the materials, they continued to collect what they could, when they could. When they began their work and the people of the land tried to stop them, they continued to work. They pressed on. When they were ordered to stop working, they stayed ready and eventually went back to their work before being given permission. They pressed on.

I can't help but ask myself, "What obstacles have I allowed to turn me away from what God has called me?" "Have I allowed a time of waiting to turn into doubt?"

These obstacles seem like huge iron fortresses that make the work we have been called to do seem impossible. But on closer inspection we find they are simply made of foil (reflecting our past fears but easily crumpled by Truth). 

God's will is always going to prevail. He may allow us to experience setbacks. This does not mean we were wrong about where He called us. 

How committed am I to His calling? Am I willing to press on, even when the walls in front of me seem impossible? Am I staying ready in times of waiting, so that when He reopens the gateway, I can continue forward?

I pray I never cease to be amazed at how God speaks through His Word. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Age is Just a Number

Lately, I've been feeling too young. Being 31, I probably shouldn't feel too young about anything, but I do. Maybe it's because a lot of women that I am close to are older than me. Maybe it's because I am usually the youngest in my seeming group of peers. To be honest, I'm not sure exactly why, I've just been feeling too young.

This has been most dominant in the area of ministry. Too young to hold certain positions, too young to be effective in this area, too young to know how to do this well. 

It's funny how these things kind of creep up on you, because until today, I didn't realize how much I was feeling this way.

Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in faith, in purity. Until I come devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by doing so you will save both yourself and your hearers.

1 Timothy 4:11-16

This was part of the passage I read today. Up to this point, I have pretty much attributed this verse to those in their teens and early twenties. Let's be honest, that's who it's most often spoken to in teaching. Today, I decided to look up some information about how old Timothy was at this point. From what has been gathered from historical information, he is probably about 26-35 yrs. old at the time Paul writes this letter to him. That's my age!

Could Timothy have been feeling the same way I am at this point? 

Here God has sent him out on mission, alone, without Paul - his mentor and guide. He's put into a position where he now has to become the teacher and mentor. Now I'm not saying I'm Timothy and that God is going to lead me to do the same things he is doing here, but wow do I relate. 

Yeah, I'm an adult and have adult responsibilities and all of that, but there's still that nagging thought at the back of my mind, "Am I ready? Am I old enough? Am I mature enough? Will others think I'm too young?" 

Now, I said I didn't realize until today how much I've been feeling this way. When I read this passage, almost immediately conversations came popping back into my mind of instances when I actually said out loud to people "I don't feel like I'm old enough to do that" or "I probably wouldn't be asked because I'm not old enough" or "I'm not sure I'm ready to handle that at my age". Then I was reminded of thoughts that I've had that weren't spoken out loud, but had stopped me from doing certain things. 

God was really speaking to me, making it loud and clear, This  passage is not just for younger people. It's for you. It's for everyone who thinks they're too young or not ready or not well respected enough. It's for everyone I call to do ministry (whatever that ministry is). It doesn't matter how old you are, because the God of eternity is the One at work. He is the one who chooses whom He will use and how. He is the one that makes a ministry effective. 

This is what happens when we lose sight of who is truly the one at work. We start to doubt. I need to regain my focus on Him who is able to do abundantly more than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us (Eph. 3:20), because to Him the glory will be given.

Friday, February 14, 2014

To the Love of My Life

Happy Valentine's Day!!!

I love Valentine's Day. My husband and I don't really do anything like go out, but I do try to do something special for those I love. 

Here is a little song I wrote for the love of my life. You can read it as a poem, but I've been singing it all week.

My heart was changed the day we met
It was a day I’ll never forget
You were the one chasing after me
While I was still trying be wild and free
They say that distance makes the heart grow fonder
But that is something I know nothing about
You promised you would never leave me
And you’ve never given me reason to doubt

You whisper sweet everythings in my ear
Like everlasting love and grace beyond compare
People call their loves the wind beneath their wings
But you’re the solid rock to which I cling
They say to follow your heart
And let your passion lead you
I can’t resist following your Truth

They measure love from the moon and back
You measure love with the palms of your hands
You crossed your heart and hoped to die
Just so I could be given life
They show their love with candy and flowers
They write notes about a moment in time
You pour on me your grace and mercy
And your letter has eternity defined

You forgave me, you changed me
You took my hand to be your wife
You fight for me, You died for me
Jesus, you’re the love of my life.