Friday, November 7, 2014

Pharisee Fluff

I have an entire list of things from the Bible that I wish to NEVER hear the Lord say to me. Along with Matthew 7:21-23 when the Lord says, "......depart from me you worker of iniquity. I never knew you....", the following passage is right up there at the top of that list:
The passage (Matthew 23:27) reads like this in the New King James:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness."
In The Message it reads:
"You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds."
I have been pondering this verse as of late for many reasons and have had some life experiences that serve as tremendous analogies that I'd like to share with you.
I recently overheard a customer at the table next to ours at a local restaurant order a drink with no ice. "I don't want a bunch of ice that waters down my drink and takes up space when I can have more of the real thing" she said. If we're not careful, making sure we are spending time with the Lord in the Word and in prayer as well as continually checking our hearts, we can have an abundance of watered down religion that fills up space in our spirits instead of the "real thing".
Several weeks ago I spent a painstaking amount of time preparing a complicated cake recipe. I was extremely excited to see the finished product only to discover a huge drop in the center of the cake. The cake sunk in the middle and looked more like a giant donut than a cake. I was crushed. My daughter consoled me, "It's okay, mom, just fill the middle with extra frosting until it's level with the sides and no one will ever know. I'm sure it tastes great." Obviously, I missed something in the recipe or didn't follow instructions properly and that resulted in a far cry from what I was trying to create. When we fail to follow the Lord's instructions and boundaries or choose our own way, thinking we know better, we create in our lives something that is a far cry from what God had destined for us. We fail to receive His best. We look good on the outside but we have no substance.  It's all fluff!! We are filled with ice or frosting and become like painted over tombs looking good on the outside but filled with dead men's bones.
Jesus was saying something really, really rude to the religious leaders when He said they were like tombs painted white. To put it in context, tombs were painted white so that people didn’t trip over them at night and therefore become ‘unclean’ through contact with the dead. He was basically saying that they were painted cover-ups of decay.
Perhaps you've seen the "prank cake" online. It's a balloon decorated to look like a cake so the unsuspecting victim gets and explosion when they cut it. The "cake" is beautifully decorated but it's a fraud. It's pretending to be a cake. No matter how beautifully decorated the balloon is, it will never be a cake. We may know all the "christianese" phrases, dress modestly, act holy but be nothing but hot air inside if we are not being real with God and naked before Him. We must be willing to surrender all to Him no matter how painful it may be.
One last illustration and being completely transparent with you, my friends. I do not wear my seat belt most of the time. Before you email me and lecture me on all the reasons why this is so wrong (including the fact that I'm not obeying the law), let me just say I'm trying to do a better job at this. I'm not going to give you all the excuses why I don't like to wear my seat belt, rather I'm going to get straight to my last illustration. I recently was commuting to work and noticed a police officer ahead. I quickly grabbed my seatbelt and pulled it in front of me and held it, not locking it in place. It looked like I had it on when I went by the officer. However, in the event of an accident, this misuse of my seat belt would surely fail to save my life. If we take Scripture out of context to fit our own agenda, if we grab our Bibles when we go to church and we post tons of Scripture on Facebook but we don't really study, pray and worship on our own time, all those outward acts will fail to save us in the end. Only a heart truly right and obedient before the Lord will know Him and be known by Him. He's not impressed by how much Scripture we can quote, how many hours we pretend to pray or how many times a week we are in church. He knows our hearts. I should be so busy examining my own heart, making sure I'm in right standing with the Lord, changing the areas He wants me to change and focusing all my attention on pleasing His heart that I have no time left whatsoever to point out the faults and failures in others.
Lord, help me to be a woman of substance. I want to live out my faith and not be filled with fluff. I recognize that who I am is who I am when it's just You and me and no one is watching. Help me to be real and not get caught up with only how things appear. Create in me a clean heart and continually renew a right spirit within me. I'd rather the outside be falling apart while the inside is pure before You than the other way around. I surrender all to You and ask You to have Your way in me. Holy Spirit, change me, mold me, make me more like Christ.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Son Follower

I recently read an interesting article about sunflowers. I learned a few things with incredible spiritual application. Sunflowers love the sun.  A sunflower grows with it's face constantly toward the sun. The sun provides growth from light and causes the sunflower to stretch even closer toward that light source. This process is called phototropism. Now, Heliotropism is the sunflowers added ability to track the sun's movements... slowly moving the face of it's flower toward the sun to receive the full impact of the sun's rays.   The stem of the flower and the leaf's stem contain specialized cells (pulvinus) which alter the amount of water present in order to optimize the health of the sunflower. These specialized cells can reduce their water flow in response to the sun's rays in order to keep the sunflower healthy.

Wow, wow, wow!!!! Is it just me or are there a ton of analogies that can be gleaned from the life of a sunflower?  As Believers, we must love the Son, always keeping our faces toward Him. We must be so in tune with the Holy Spirit that our whole being moves when He moves and is still when He is still. We must "track" the Lord's every move and sense His leading inside of us. We have a built-in GPS in the form of the Holy Spirit. We don't have to guess what way to go, we can just ask the Lord and His Holy Spirit will guide us. Acts 17:28 tells us that "in Him we live and move and have our being."
I am reminded of the Israelites in the dessert, led by a cloud in the day and a pillar of fire by night. The Holy Spirit led them wherever they should go. Whether it was day or night, clear or stormy, whatever was going on in life, when that cloud or that pillar of fire moved, they moved along with it. Dear brother, dear sister, no matter what is going on in your life, be guided by the Holy Spirit. Be so in tune with His leading that your face is forever pointed toward the Son. The sunflower's entire life is based on drawing closer to the sun. It doesn't fret over anything. It isn't moved or thrown off track by what is going on around it. It stays steadfast constantly stretching toward the sun.  At night, it repositions it's face in the direction of the East in order to greet the sun first thing in the morning. Do you see where I'm going with this? Our primary goal in life is not about prosperity, health or even "ministry". It's about knowing Him, breathing Him, living Him more and more intimately. Stretching and growing closer to Him every day.  As we seek Him continually, He is able to accomplish His perfect will in our lives. When we are completely emptied of any selfish motives and filled with an intense, unquenchable desire to know Him more and more, then we truly live.
His plans for you are good. All He requires of you is to keep your face (heart) inclined toward Him continually. Hebrews 12:2 states, "We must never stop looking to Jesus. He is the leader of our faith, and he is the one who makes our faith complete....... If you're looking for a life filled with peace that is unshakable and unsinkable, you only need be a Son Follower.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Waves of Mercy

Psalm 139:13 states, "Certainly you made my mind and heart; you wove me together in my mother's womb."

The Lord knows us intimately. He knows us better than we know ourselves. So, obviously, He knows that I am a visual learner.  I learn through nature and every day happenings. If we pay attention, there are spiritual lessons and applications in abundance all around us, every day.
In a recent visit to the beach, I had a few "aha" moments with the Lord. Those of you that know me, know that the beach is my happy place. Perhaps it's the lull of the ocean waves, the gentle breeze upon my face or the warmth of the sun (Son) embracing  me that puts me at such peace when I am there.
On this particular visit, the beach portion was very small and disappeared as the tide came in. There was a large wall at the back of the beach just before the street that ran along the shoreline. Therefore, when the tide came in, it reached all the way to the wall and plunged up about 2 feet high. At high tide, the locals and most tourists would pack up their belongings and leave the beach until the tide went back out. I decided to wait out the tide and just place my chair all the way against the wall and lift it for any big waves that would ensue and threaten to carry my belongings out to sea.
As I waded in the water, I noticed something. After a few close calls with my belongings almost being swept away, I began to watch the waves more closely. I noticed there were incoming waves that I was almost certain would crash against the back wall and drag anything and everything with it in its path back out to sea. However, the previous wave that was going out to meet the incoming wave, subdued the strength of that incoming wave. It was able to restrain the strength of the incoming wave. What seemed like an incoming disaster was thwarted by the restraining power of the outgoing wave. As I observed this process, I could not help but think of God's mercy and grace. Often times life comes at us full force. Consequences of bad or selfish choices (whether our own or others) have the potential to bring along with it heartache, pain and destruction. Sometimes those consequences are lessons that are necessary and actually profitable even though painful. But sometimes, God intervenes and His "wave" of lovingkindness restrains the impending doom and destruction. Often His amazing grace and His loving mercy subdue and restrain the affects of life. He is able to speak to the storms of our life, "Peace be Still" (Mark 4:39)
After almost 35 years of walking with the Lord, I have finally arrived to a place where I thank God for all the things He's spared me from AND I thank Him for all the lessons, as painful as they may have been, that caused me to grow and become a better person through them. He knows best.
Another lesson I learned that day was that many will "run" when the going gets tough but often they will miss out on the lesson behind the impending storm. No one likes going through difficulty but as Corrie Ten Boom stated, "In order to realize the worth of the Anchor, we need to feel the stress of the storm." May we have the resolve of Jesus to say, "If it be possible, let this cup pass before me. Nevertheless, not my will, but Your will be done. (Matthew 26:39)
I want to encourage you today, wherever God has you (I just happen to be going through a difficult storm in my life right now) be at peace knowing that He knows best. As long as daily you set your heart to please Him and walk in His ways, you can have the assurance that He is working it all for good in spite of how things seem and in spite of any pain you may be experiencing. The pain Jesus faced in the Garden of Gethsemane yielded an eternal, magnificent, and beautiful reward. His plans are best.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Chew the Cud

When I say the word memories are you filled with joy, or are you filled with regret? Did you know the Scriptures command us time and time again to remember? But God didn't just tell us to remember. He told us WHAT to remember. We are to remember His faithfulness, His goodness, His mercies, His lovingkindness, His commandments, His ways, His presence, His character, His forgiveness, etc. You see, God, in His infinite wisdom, gave us the ability to CHOOSE what we remember. We can choose what we dwell on. Like many of you, I have a lot of terrible memories. I used to let those memories consume me. They would awaken me in the middle of the night filled with terror.  I would find myself so distraught, sometimes to the point of not even wanting to function for the day. After a lot of wasted hours, I realized that the Lord desires for us to deal with our past and its memories and move on. Why revisit it over and over again? Why dwell on the injustice of it all? Why wonder why abusers go unpunished? What does it profit you? Does dwelling on these things bring justice or relief? Quite the contrary.
One of my very favorite portions of Scripture is Philippians 4:8 "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, THINK ON THESE THINGS  (and weigh and take account these things [fix your minds on them]) ."
The human mind is so powerful. It can simply imagine a scenario and cause the feelings related to that scenario to arise within us. For example, if I am thinking of relaxing on the beach, reading a great book, I can sense the peace that would accompany that experience without even actually participating in it. The things we choose to meditate on take root in our hearts. This is why we are encouraged in the book of Philippians to think on good things, on Godly things. We can be filled with Godly emotions and His characteristics can fill us and flow out of us as we meditate on Him. You know the old saying, "Don't be so heavenly minded, you're no earthly good."?  Well, I encourage you to be so Heavenly minded (Godly minded) that you are of great earthly good. The Bible promises us in Isaiah 26:3 that He will keep us in perfect peace as our thoughts rest on Him. In other words, when you meditate on Godly things, He rewards you with peace.

To meditate means to ponder, regurgitate, think aloud, consider continuously and utter something over and over again. You've heard the phrase "chew the cud" referring to meditation. Well, chew the cud is referring to the process a cow uses to digest its food. It will chew it's food, swallow it, digest it and bring it back up again to re-chew, re-swallow, and re-digest. In this way the cow can extract ALL the nutrients and benefits from what they are eating.  I know this sounds disgusting but you can see a very important spiritual application here. When we meditate on the Word of God and the things of the Lord, we are chewing them, swallowing them and digesting them as spiritual food. And throughout our lives we bring back up those things that we have learned and we apply them repeatedly to our lives and thus extract all the great benefits and rewards of living a Godly life.

I challenge you today dear sister, dear brother, take authority over your thoughts, over your memories. Align them with Scripture and walk in newness of life.

Romans 12:2: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. "

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sacred Scars

I often wish the scar on my abdomen were not so unattractive. My youngest son, Seth was 10 lbs 11 oz and had to be taken cesarean section. Because of his size the incision was vertical rather than horizontal. Many years later due to a benign tumor, that same incision would be reopened. It is a significant scar but I’ve come to the realization that everything we face in life and all of our experiences are framed with perspective.  I can choose to focus on how unattractive this scar is and feel ashamed or I can choose to focus on the fact that this scar resulted in producing the life of an amazing young man that I adore.  This same scar reminds me that God was faithful at a very scary time in my life when doctors were certain something terrible would be found in my body.  In addition, I have another scar on my neck that is a result of my battle with cancer. These scars share a common thread, they all tell a story and they are all framed by the way I choose to view them. They tell a beautiful story of God’s faithfulness and His promise to never leave nor forsake me.  Everything we face in life has the potential to serve as a memorial of God’s faithfulness or our resignation to defeat.
Two thousand years ago scars were formed that would reshape all of humanity. These scars would be suffered unjustly and change the world forever. The scars Jesus bore serve as a beautiful reminder of His unfailing love and His selfless sacrifice. The scandalous cross with all of its violence and gore is framed with a beautiful picture of redemption. When we remember His suffering we cannot help but feel overwhelmed with gratefulness that He was the propitiation for our sin. The spotless, perfect Lamb of God left all of the comfort and splendor of heaven to suffer a scandalous, violent death as the single greatest act of love ever to be performed on Earth. Do we think of the gore and the violence? Do we focus on the wounds on His Hands, His Feet? No. We focus on the beautiful result of His sacrifice. The gore, the violence, the scandal yielded a beautiful love story. We frame the shame of the cross with the beauty of redemption and reconciliation. We frame the injustice of it all with the realization that there was no greater love than this. We frame the sufferings of Christ with the victory of His resurrection and the promise of His return. We choose to remember these scars, the shame of His nakedness on the cross, and the injustice of it all can be framed by continual awareness that God so loved us that He gave. He gave His all because His greatest desire is to have relationship with us. Oh, what a Savior!!! I am eternally grateful for His sacred scars.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Life, Liberty, & the Pursuit of Holiness

Before receiving Christ and committing my life to Him, I had a sense of emptiness. Even when I felt happy, there seemed to be something missing. I always felt there had to be a greater purpose in life. Satisfaction and contentment seemed to elude me. In the bad times the hopelessness seemed almost too much to bear and the sense of aloneness overwhelming. I look back now and realize how thirsty my soul was for a relationship with its Creator. I believed in the existence of God. I believed in the existence of Jesus and even in the existence of the Holy Spirit. But I realize that even the demons believe and they tremble. If I am drowning and someone throws me a life preserver, I have to know how to utilize that life preserver to save my life. If I don't go beyond knowing God exists and arrive at a relationship with Him, I will never fill the emptiness in my heart. The age old question, "What is the meaning of life" is easily answered in the Word of God. We were created for Him!! It's that plain and that simple. We were created for His purposes, His pleasure, His glory. Am I always "happy" now that I have a great relationship with the Lord? No. But I am always filled with joy and more importantly the assurance that even in the not-so-good times I have a Savior that has promised to never leave me alone and a resolve within my heart that He is working all things together for good. However, that "good" He is working is not necessarily my definition of "good". God sees all, knows all and has the wisdom required to use my life for HIS purposes and I trust Him because I know His character and that He loves me.
The world will tell you that Christianity is a set of rules and regulations and that entering a relationship with Jesus means giving up everything and anything that is "fun". This couldn't be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, entering a relationship with Jesus sets you free to choose a life of holiness. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 "We are allowed to do all things, but not all things are good for us to do. We are allowed to do all things, but not all things help others grow stronger.  Do not look out only for yourselves. Look out for the good of others also." So, in essence, a life without Christ is a life of bondage where we are giving in to our own desires rather than being free by the Spirit of God to honor the One that created us. Without the Lord in our lives, we are destined to carry the burdens of life ourselves. God never intended for it to be that way. He lifts our burdens and we are able to rest in the fact that He sustains us and gives us exactly what we need each day to make it thorough victoriously. So, you see dear friends, after we commit our lives to Christ, He gives us liberty and freedom to walk out the rest of our days honoring Him.
Once we develop our relationship with Christ and realize the unbelievable price He paid for us and how He set us free, we can't help but desire to give our lives back to Him. It's not about "buying" our salvation, rather a reasonable act of worship to say, "Lord, I am so grateful for all You have done for me and I love You so much but I recognize I have nothing to offer you. Nothing that would even come close to commensurate the sacrifice you made. So, I offer you my life, a living sacrifice. Have Your way in me. Mold me and make me and remake me into the person You desire me to be. Use me to glorify You. This kind of surrender pleases the Lord and releases our burdens. We trade the stress of making our lives count in the way we think they should in exchange for His will, purposes and plans for us. We no longer live for self but dedicate our days to honoring Him and our fellow man. This pursuit for Holiness reminds us that only the Lord in us can cause us to walk in victory and in ways that would draw others to Him.  

Hebrews 12:14 "Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness, since no one will see God without it."

Monday, March 17, 2014

Growing in Grace

Over the 30 plus years I have served the Lord, I have heard Bible verses, quotes and statements made by many believers about growing in grace. However, recently, this idea came alive to me. I am currently enrolled an a theology class being taught by my Pastor. Over the years I have heard him on multiple occasions give the definition of grace (unmerited favor) and even heard him expound on how grace is not a license to sin. Recently, however, he has repeatedly taught us the difference between mercy and grace. Even though they are in some instances very interchangeable, they are two distinct and different characteristics altogether. In rather simple terms, he defines the difference this way: Mercy is what I need when I fail. Grace is what I need so I won't fail.

In our theology class last night, Pastor mentioned that the more intimately we are acquainted with Christ, the more grace we receive. I meditated on this for quite some time and of course this makes perfect sense. The more I know Him, the greater my understanding is of what pleases and displeases Him. I thought of the perfect example: After work on Friday, I ran several errands and decided to stop at Saladworks for dinner. I purchased my meal and sat down at a table and began eating and was interrupted by a man seated at a nearby table with his girlfriend:

             Man: Excuse me?
             Me: Yes?
             Man: I was wondering if I offended you just now?
             Me: Ummm, no. Why?
             Man: Well, my girlfriend said that she believes you would be offended by my using
                       the "F" word moments ago.
             Me: Oh, well, I didn't hear you.
             Man: Oh, good. I didn't think you were offended.
             Me: Well, if I HAD heard you, I would have been sad because I am a follower of
                    Christ and believe in using words for good and ones that promote peace.
             Man: (Surprised look on his face) Oh, well then I'm glad you didn't hear me.

As Pastor discussed the idea of growing in grace by knowing Christ more intimately, I thought of this encounter. You see, this man did not know me. He did not know me at all. Had, he known me, he would have been well aware that foul language would be offensive to me. In the same way, the greater we know Christ, the better we understand what grieves Him and what pleases Him. We cannot simply assume that He is well pleased with us. Rather, through spending time in the scriptures and prayer, we are afforded the opportunity of seeing His heart and getting to know Him on a level that subdues us from participating in things that would grieve Him and focusing our time and heart on things that bring Him honor. Thus, the process of "growing in grace."

In the same way, I have shared in the past that there is a difference between knowing ABOUT someone and knowing on a level that you have an intimate relationship with them. If I were the leader of Tim Tebow's fan club, I would more than likely know a lot about him, probably more than the average person. I may even know his address, his favorite color, his favorite Bible verse, his birthday and even some childhood stories. Yet, I've never met him.  Even if I have met him, I've never spent time intimately with him. I've never heard him speak from his heart or built a relationship with him. In the same manner, we must be diligent to know and love Christ intimately and not simply know OF him. Even the demons know of Him. I encourage you dear brother, dear sister, grow in the grace of God by becoming more intimately acquainted with Christ and knowing Him in an even greater way. 

"You therefore, beloved, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen." 2 Peter 3:17-18