Saturday, August 2, 2008

One tiny word--a world of difference

Wow, has it really been 4 months since I blogged? Yep...sad but true (well, sad for me...probably no loss for anyone else...).

I need to try to start blogging more regularly again; it's a good way to remind MYSELF of the things I need to focus on.

So, to begin with, a question from the new Beth Moore book I've been reading:
Do you Believe God or do you just believe IN God?
Lots of people believe IN God...but if our lives are to really be dramatically changed by His power, we must go deeper than just believing IN Him...we must BELIEVE Him.

Do you really believe that what God promises in His Word is true? It's funny; we, as Christians, believe that He can save us through the blood of Jesus, for salvation...for eternal life in heaven.
But too often, we live as if we don't believe that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead might just not be sufficient to meet our daily needs. We worry about how to pay the bills, about decisions we need to make, about relationship problems...whatever it is, we act as if we must handle it on our own, because God just might not be able to take care of it!
We would never SAY we believe that, yet our lives too often demonstrate a lack of confidence in our Savior to meet ALL our needs, as He SAYS He will.

Do you believe God IS who He says He is?
Do you believe He can do what He says He can do?
Do you believe YOU are who HE says you are?

Start immersing yourself in His Word, and take Him at His that HE WILL DO what He says He will do!

"For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ" 1 Corinthians 1:20

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Matter of Focus

This past Sunday, Easter Sunday, my pastor asked me to give a testimony about how God's resurrection power had changed my life. I was saved at the age of 30, when, after falling to the bottom of a pit of hopelessness, I was rescued by the love and grace of Jesus. Perhaps at some point, I'll put my testimony here, but that's not the point of this post.

I absolutely love to talk about Christ has changed my life, and so agreeing to give my testimony in church, in front of the Easter crowd, wasn't difficult for me. The difficult part was that I was supposed to keep it between 3-5 minutes! Those who know me know I can't even start to tell a story in less than 5 pastor knows it too, but he says that, hoping I'll at least try to be doesn't really work.

Anyway, I prayed that God would use my testimony to touch someone else's heart, maybe someone who was in that sort of despair I used to feel, who needed to feel the love of Christ. What I didn't realize was how God would use my testimony to speak to me!

I've had a lot of struggles lately, and have felt like satan, while he'll never win the war, has been pretty dominant on the battlefield of my life recently. Health struggles, INSURANCE struggles (the devil came up with America's health insurance plan, you know...mostly kidding, please don't send me angry emails if you work for a health insurance company!!), the rebellion of a teenager, enormous medical bills, house repair issues, braces for another teenager, broken arms, a drunk driver totaling my son's car and causing him medical problems for months, and just the daily life a single mom trying to keep all the balls in the air...and that's just over the last 8 months or so!!

As I spoke on Sunday, I was reminded of how powerful God really IS, and how much He really has changed me--how faithful He has been to see me through every single struggle I've faced...and if He has already seen me through all these years, and brought me through them stronger in my faith than ever, then I have to trust that He is also faithful to see me through anything I face now, or anything in my future. A rebellious son? God knew that was gonna happen way, way before I did...He's not surprised, and He's not worried. My health? God knows what's wrong with me, and He's allowing everything for a reason. And since His plans for me are for my good, I can trust Him.

We will always have problems in this life, but how we manage to get through these struggles really comes down to two things, and they are dependent on one another:
Where your focus is
Where your trust is

I can focus on my problems--and I've got plenty of them to look at! But when I do that, they become bigger and bigger, and it seems like that's all there is...just problems everywhere! And as I dwell on them, I become very negative in my thinking, and much more vulnerable to the attacks of satan on my emotions.
But when I choose instead to focus on God--well, the problems become secondary...they're still there, but they don't have the hold on me they did before.
One of the best ways for me to focus on God is to focus on His Word...when I start to worry or think negatively, I purposely replace those thoughts with Scripture that reminds me of the Truth...
Worried about the rebellion of a child? "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Prov 22:6)
Worried about how to make ends meet? "But my God shall supply ALL your needs, according to HIS riches in glory." (Phil 4:19)
Facing a seemingly impossible situaton? I love this one..."unto Him who is able to do IMMEASURABLY more than all we can think or imagine, according to the power that worketh in us,..."(Eph 3:20) or simply "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Gen 18:14)
I could go on and on (and I usually do...) but you get the point. Rick Warren says the only difference between worrying and meditating is what you are focusing on!

I think I'll make the issue of where our trust is a whole separate post, so look for it tomorrow. Today, though, I issue a challenge:
Commit whatever problems you are facing to God...even if you don't see HOW He's gonna handle them, He will.
Then--try to "catch" yourself thinking negatively, focusing on a problem...and when it happens, purposely choose to replace that thought with a Scripture, a promise to God that reminds you that the truth is that God's got it under control.
My guess is that by the end of the day, you'll begin to see a difference in your outlook!

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths." Proverbs 3:5-6

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Little Leverage

Happy St. Patrick's Day!
Wow, I can't believe it's been so long since I posted an entry. Much has happened in my life since the last time I blogged, and most of it I may never post about...suffice it to say, God evidently has an interesting year planned for me, a plan for pushing me out of any last comfort zone I still had, and for stretching my faith beyond what I thought would be the snapping point.

But, I can honestly say, as Paul did, that I am "perplexed, but not in despair...cast down, but not destroyed." I have encountered some struggles recently I hoped I would never, ever have, but I have also encountered the mighty hand of God, the incredible support of a loving church family, and of course, my wonderful friends who hold me up when I collapse!

One day recently, when I was praying about a particularly distressing problem that I felt incapable of handling, I read this passage (Ephesians 1:17-20):
"I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms."

There are so, so many incredible things about this passage, but what particularly struck me that day was this last little bit. His incomparably great power is available for us who believe--okay, that's great, but I gotta admit. I often have trouble wrapping my little pea-sized brain around what that really implies, just how much power that really is that's available.
The next sentence just blows me away: "That power"--that is, that "incomparably great power" that we can know by experience when we believe--is the very same power He exerted when He RAISED Christ from the DEAD!! Now, THAT'S Power!

And suddenly, there was an image in my head: I was standing there, looking at a giant rock, a gi-normous probably weighed several TONS. And it was in a place that I needed to get it HAD to be moved...BY ME. And there I was, staring at this gargantuan rock, preparing to use a lever to move it out of the way. Only my "lever" was a stick...a fine stick, to be sure, but a stick nonetheless...a piece of wood, weighing probably a few ounces at best.
Now, I remember my science well enough to know that a lever is a simple machine that helps us do work. A lever can help you move a rock out of the way MUCH more easily than you could do by sheer muscle.
But a lever has its limits. And a small stick is simply no match for a giant boulder. So there I am, trying to wedge this little stick between the enormous rock and the ground, and then Puuuuussssshhhh it up...and, of course, it broke...

So now, I had a gi-normous rock and NO lever. And I started to look about for another stick, when I saw had been right behind me all along, and I have no idea how I could have missed it, but I had. It was an absolutely humongous piece of power a lever on steroids, and then some. And I looked at the equipment operator, and at my giant rock, and I said..."no, it's okay, really, I've got this one...I can move it myself, I just need to find a bit bigger stick."

Now, remember this was all just an image in my head (don't you feel sorry for my head just about now?). But as I "came to," I realized how absolutely foolish I must have seemed to that equipment operator, trying to move that enormous rock with a completely useless stick when he was RIGHT THERE with a tool that could have made that rock move like IT was the little stick!

And I realized, THAT'S the kind of power we're talking about here...the power that could toss a multi-ton rock like a twig.

The rock was, of course, all the problems I grapple with and try to "move" out of the way, all on my own. The power equipment is right there waiting, but I gotta be willing to get out of the way and quit trying to do it myself.
Another bit of this analogy that I just really began to see as I typed it up is this: the power equipment was there all along, ready and waiting to take care of the need...BUT using it would require not only giving up my own futile efforts, but giving control of the situation over to the equipment operator. See, there's no way I could have climbed up into that equipment and figured out how to correctly USE it...but I was welcome to climb aboard and join him as he easily moved my rock.

So, quit trying to handle life with nothing but your own power; give your problems and crises over to the One who has the best power equipment there ever was..stuff so powerful, it defeated death itself!!

One caveat, by the way...sometimes the problems don't just go fact, to be honest, my big rock is still sitting right where it was, it hasn't been moved an inch. But my perspective on it is changing...because when I gave it over to the equipment operator, the expert, He said, "oh, you don't want to move that rock right now, because it would do more harm than good. Let's leave it right where it is until it's really TIME to move it, and then I'll just pick it up and get out of the way for you..." So, even though it's still there, I'm not worried over it anymore, because I know the Master Planner has it all worked out.

Well, as I reread this post, I can only hope that you have gotten a sense of the message God gave me, and not just a sense that I may be a deeply disturbed all made sense to ME, really it did!!

"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!" Ephesians 3:20

Monday, February 11, 2008

Valentine's Day Ambassadors

WARNING: The first part of this post may sound like a Valentine's "Bah Humbug." That's only because it is...but bear with me while I vent about being single in a couple's world, and then I'll try to move to a more optimistic conclusion.

This is what I, rather unaffectionately, call "National Couple's Week." Valentine's Day isn't exactly a holiday that I look forward to. And it seems like every year, all the emphasis on couples and romance just grows...I can't speak for others, but as a single parent, it's pretty much a downer week for me. Turn on the radio; they're holding a contest for a weekend getaway...but only for couples. Go to church...they're selling tickets for the Valentine's banquet. Now, they don't say it's only for couples, but honestly...not really my idea of a good time to go ALONE and sit with a roomful of couples and be reminded that I am NOT part of that. Turn on the TV...stuff to buy your sweetie...unless of course, you're so lame you don't have one.

The Today show even did a piece on How to Celebrate Valentine's Day if You're Single...I confess I didn't hear the whole thing...but here's my condensed version of at least ONE of their ideas:
Go to the store and rent a nice, romantic movie...alone.
Come home and pop up some popcorn and various other goodies...alone.
Sit down and watch a movie about other people in love...alone.
I mean, come on, how lame is that?!? As if I wasn't depressed enough already about being alone, I should pretty much just rub it in my own face?!? Thanks, but I think I'll pass on that...

For me, Valentine's Day also makes me miss my dad...Dad always gave his "girls" (his wife and both daughters) Valentine's, even when we were grown and I had kids of my own...Dad would still give me a card and a heart-shaped box of chocolates...I'd give just about anything for one more box of chocolates from Dad.

Okay, so before I start to depress even people who HAVE a "significant other," maybe I'd better find a point in here somewhere. My point is really just to challenge myself, and others, to use Valentine's Day as a ministry opportunity. What a perfect opportunity, on this day that is all about Love, to share God's love with those who need it.

If you are single (whether you're divorced, never married, or widowed), you may feel like I do about Valentine's day...but how we deal with it is OUR choice. I can mope about and gripe and be in a generally bad mood all week (and believe me, I'm tempted to do just that, I really am...), or I can take my eyes off myself and look for opportunities to make it a good day for others who are also forgotten Valentines.

But, chances are, if you're reading this blog, you're NOT single...well, I have a challenge for you as well. It is certainly appropriate to spend Valentine's Day celebrating your partner, thanking them and God for the love that you have together. But don't waste the opportunity to share God's love with others who may be feeling even more alone than ever this week. If you have a single or widowed friend, do something to remind them that they are loved and valued, too!

So, here are some ideas to use to make Valentine's Day special not just for YOUR "significant other," but for those singles in your world who may need to know that they're significant too:
Take Valentine's Day cards to a nursing home, or a hospital.
Take a bouquet of flowers to a widow and ask them to share some memories of their spouse.
Do something special for a single parent--take them to a movie, or out to eat, or give them a gift certificate for a restaurant or a spa treatment, or maybe just take them some chocolate-covered strawberries and a note telling them how significant they are to you.

Remember, we are God's ambassadors, just like Cupid is the "ambassador" for Valentine's Day...we spread His message, and what better day to share His love for others than on the day that we celebrate love? Don't keep it to yourself!

If you have other ideas for making someone single feel special on Valentine's, feel free to share them!

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." John 3:16

Monday, January 14, 2008

Finding Joy, Part 2

In the last post, I talked about finding joy...or rather, about choosing joy--we can't really find joy, it finds us in the very person of Christ, when we come to Him in faith. But every day, we can decide whether we are going to take hold of the joy He offers, or whether we are going to continue to cling to our problems, our negative attitudes, our fears and our insecurities.

I began to list some practical steps to choosing joy, the first of which was abiding in the Word.

Once we are spending regular, daily time in the Word, reading it, hearing it, letting it seep into our beings, we need to take it a step further:

2. Think about what you think. In my "former" life, I was absolutely the Queen of Negative Thinking...nothing was so wonderful that I couldn't see the negative in it! I was slowly, painfully, and often unwillingly, convinced of the need to break this pattern of thinking...and the only way to do that is to REPLACE one thought with another. Rick Warren talks about this in the Purpose Driven Life. He says that we ALL meditate, it's a matter of what we choose to meditate ON...our problems, or God's Word. I began to purposely, consciously, try to catch myself each day when I became negative or starting dwelling on a problem, and instead, I replaced that thought with something from God's word. I was shocked by how much of my time was being spent on negative thinking!! But, as I began to replace that negative thinking with dwelling on the Word of God, it began to change me, literally...supernaturally..beyond anything I could ever have achieved on my own.

One of my very favorite verses is this from 2 Corinthians 10:4-5:
"The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

For me, negative thinking was a real stronghold--and I was trying to fight it the way we tend to fight so many of our strongholds, through the power of the flesh. But my flesh wasn't very powerful--it was weak...and it fell for satan's lies every time. I had to realize that I was fighting my battles with the wrong weapon! What I needed was every Christian's sole offensive weapon: the sword of the spirit...the Word of God. When I began to fight the lies of the devil with the Truth of God's Word, the battle turned!

I began to see that my negative thinking, and the lies of the devil, were really just arguments against what God said was essence, every time I became negative, I was calling God a liar. Every time I didn't believe He could work through me in a circumstance, or the awful circumstance I was in was never going to change, I was setting up my OWN thoughts against the knowledge of God. So instead, I began to take every thought captive, and make it obedient to what Christ says. When I thought, "My life is just never going to be any better," I replaced it with God's truth..." I know the plans I have for you and they are plans to prosper give you hope and a future." When I thought, "It's no use. I'm a failure," I replaced it by remembering that "he who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it," and I was reminded that God himself thought He'd started something pretty good when He made me!

When you replace your thoughts with promises of God, it becomes difficult to stay negative for very long! You begin to look for what God has to say about a situation or thought instead of how you "feel" about it. And you begin to bear the fruit of joy, not because your circumstances are better, but because you begin to take hold of another step:

3) Believe God. Really, it all boils down to this, because if I really don't believe that what God tells me is true, then reading it and repeating it aren't going to help that much. I have to ask myself, who do you believe, yourself, the devil or God? Because we may say we believe God, but our lives will show whether we really do or not. The person who has joy is the person who has decided to believe God no matter what their circumstances are...they have decided toSee, when I look at my circumstances, when I review my past failures, when I focus on my fears, I am really trusting more in what I see than in what God says is true.
For me, a large part of the process of choosing to believe God was deciding to quit letting my emotions rule my faith, and instead live the other way around, letting my faith rule my emotions. Because sometimes my emotions lie--sometimes I don't feel like God could even love me, and it would be easy (trust me, I know, because I've done it!) to start to actually believe that...but the truth is that God loves me with a passion I can't even begin to understand, that makes my love for my kids seem like nothing. Sometimes, when my emotions take hold and feel unloved, I have to take a stand and choose to believe what God says...and when I make that choice, the emotions never rule for long...

There's a great song by Casting Crowns, called "The Voice of Truth"--it says,

Oh, what I would do
to have the kind of strength it takes
To stand before a giant
with just a sling and a stone
Surrounded by the sound
of a thousand warriors
shaking in their armor
Wishing they'd have had the strength to stand

But the giant's calling out
my name and he laughs at me
Reminding me of all the times
I've tried before and failed
The giant keeps on telling me
time and time again
"Boy you'll never win,
you'll never win."

But the voice of truth tells me a different story
the voice of truth says "do not be afraid!"
and the voice of truth says "this is for my glory"
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth

The choice is yours--joy or misery, fear or love, trust or doubt--choose well.

"Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4

Finding Joy

A friend recently requested prayer that she would find joy in what is, for her, a very joyless work situation. Well, my first response was that she wasn't looking for joy, but happiness. Happiness comes with our circumstances; when things are going good, we are happy, but when things turn difficult and unpleasant, happiness flees, only to return when the trouble has passed. But Joy...ahh, joy can abide within us in the midst of the most difficult, unhappy circumstances...

So, my friend wanted to know, how do we find joy? And I, being older (barely), more experienced, and full of wisdom, said..."Good question." And I realized I wasn't really sure exactly how we find it. I mean, I know the stock scriptural answer, "Joy comes from the Lord," but if it is missing from our lives, how do we find it? Because, honestly? I could use more of it myself...there is a reason Eeyore is my profile picture! And while God has truly made me a new creation and removed the Eeyore from this heart, still, there are days....well, let's just say that if every cloud has a silver lining, there are days when I can find the tarnish on the silver lining...

So, I thought I'd look at how to find joy, and what I discovered anew is this: We don't find joy. We choose joy. If we are a Christian, God has already given us joy:
"The fruit of the spirit is love, JOY, peace..." 1 Cor 5:2
"Behold, I bring you good news of great JOY which shall be for all people..." Luke 2:10
Jesus is our joy, and through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, we have that joy placed within us.

But wait...if that's true, why don't I feel joyful? Because sometimes, I choose misery instead of joy, As ridiculous as that sounds, it's true--I choose focusing on my circumstances instead of on the promises of my Jesus.

Every morning when I wake up, I think, "no way. I am not getting up this morning...I hate getting up. I don't feel good. I'm still tired. Just forget it." And then I get up...
Why do I get up? Because I have two teenagers who depend on me, who won't get to school on time if Mom doesn't get them up and going. Because I have a job, and I like my job, and I especially like what my job affords me, like living in a house with a roof over my head.
So, even though I don't really want to leave the comfort and warmth of my bed, I choose to get up, because I know, deep down, that in the end, it's for the best.

Well, I need to remember that joy is a choice too...and sometimes, it is simply easier, more convenient, more "comfortable" to choose to focus on what I'm unhappy about. It's HARD sometimes to choose to look beyond the circumstances, but if we want what God has planned for us, we need to make that choice.

So, how do we CHOOSE joy? Because saying we need to, and being able to do it are very different things. Well, God has shown me over these past several days some very practical things we can do to help us learn to choose joy. Of course, there are many others, but these have proven to work for me. I'll break them into several blog entries, so this doesn't go on forever.

1. Spend time in the Word. It's my answer for almost everything, because it's God's answer for absolutely everything! We treat our reading of God's Word like it's optional, but if we want to live joyfully, passionately, abundantly, as God desires, this is NOT an option. The Word has the power to change our lives...literally! Jesus said, "If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, you shall ask what you will, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." Now remember, JOY is one of the, by letting his word remain in us, we become more capable of bearing, showing forth, that fruit!

You'll have to wait for the next posting for #2 and #3!

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" Philippians 4:4

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Call to Radical Commitment

The title for this blog, as well as most of its content, is not original from me--but it is worth posting if even one person has not read it before.

This was sent to me by a friend--it is by Rick Warren, written on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Saddleback Church. It was meant, evidently, as a charge to himself and his church--this is NOT just something to read and nod our heads and say, "yeah, I'd love to be like that." There is a place at the bottom to sign and date it--and while I urge others to print it and sign it, I also urge you NOT to do so lightly, just to say you've done it. Sign it because you MEAN it, and then commit to living it. Because following Christ, dying to self and living for Him and through Him, isn't something we should just "want" to do, it's something we must make the conscious decision to do. In my own life, this past year has been a process of coming to that point, of saying, "It's time to grow up, spiritually speaking. It's time to quit letting emotions rule, and quit letting satan eat my lunch like some big bully on the playground. It's time to simply say, 'this is where I stand, I can do no other' (quote from Martin Luther) and then press on toward the goal."
In short, I decided that it was time to really make a Radical Commitment, and Rick Warren has worded it as well as I ever could...
I have signed this statement, I have committed to LIVE this statement, and I have posted it on the wall in my office and stuck it in my Bible to remind is my prayer that others will determine to live it too and that God's glory will begin to shine through our lives to a lost and hurting world.

A Call to Radical Commitment

Today I am stepping across the line. I'm tired of waffling, and I'm finished with wavering. I've made my choice; the verdict is in; and my decision is irrevocable. I'm going God's way. There's no turning back now!

I will live the rest of my life serving God's purposes with God's people on God's planet for God's glory. I will use my life to celebrate his presence, cultivate his character, participate in his family, demonstrate his love, and communicate his Word.

Since my past has been forgiven, and I have a purpose for living and a home awaiting in heaven, I refuse to waste any more time or energy on shallow living, petty thinking, trivial talking, thoughtless doing, useless regretting, hurtful resenting, or faithless worrying.

Instead I will magnify God, grow to maturity, serve in ministry, and fulfill my mission in the membership of his family.

Because this life is preparation for the next, I will value worship over wealth, "we" over "me," character over comfort, service over status, and people over possessions, position, and pleasures. I know what matters most, and I'll give it all I've got. I'll do the best I can with what I have for Jesus Christ today.

I won't be captivated by culture, manipulated by critics, motivated by praise, frustrated by problems, debilitated by temptation, or intimidated by the devil. I'll keep running my race with my eyes on the goal, not the sidelines or those running by me.

When times get tough, and I get tired, I won't back up, back off, back down, back out, or backslide. I'll just keep moving forward by God's grace. I'm Spirit-led, purpose-driven and mission-focused, so I cannot be bought, I will not be compromised, and I shall not quit until I finish the race.

I'm a trophy of God's amazing grace, so I will be gracious to everyone, grateful for every day, and generous with everything that God entrusts to me.

To my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I say: However, whenever, wherever, and whatever you ask me to do, my answer in advance is yes! Wherever you lead and whatever the cost, I'm ready. Anytime. Anywhere. Anyway.

Whatever it takes Lord; whatever it takes!

I want to be used by you in such a way, that on that final day I'll hear you say, "Well done, thou good and faithful one. Come on in, and let the eternal party begin!"

What does this mean?

Today, I affirm this commitment to God and submit to his plans and purposes for my life, no matter what it takes.





Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on
toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward
in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13b-14 NIV)