Thursday, October 16, 2014

In order, to love Him more

Often I have an idea of what I want to write about and know the title before I begin, but not so this time.  I've really been challenged to move up with my relationship with Christ, my husband, my family, and my friends.  I was extremely overwhelmed with feeling like a slug a few weeks ago because I was letting selfishness and truly idleness get between me and my husband which outflows into every other area of my life.  I was keeping up daily Bible time, but some days it was simply Bible time.  I mentioned a week or so ago about a hinge decision that I wanted to make, but follow-through wasn't happening.  It's hard to follow through when you never really start.
I went to a women's conference with my church this last weekend and my heart was pretty convicted about things that I need to get straightened out in my life in order of 1. God 2. marriage 3. self 4. family 5. ministry 6. friendships 7. others.  Yes, I'm failing to some extent in every area of my life ... so I was thinking maybe I need to lay down ministry things for a while until I've worked the rest out.  UH NO!  Actually Holy Spirit was gentle with me and spoke to my heart, "If everyone in ministry laid down ministry while they worked out their issues, no one would be left to minister."  OK.  So I as usual began to mentally come up with how to resolve everything.  A scurry of thoughts came to me and beautiful, Kristi Estrada, shared a little thing that she was frustrated about and as she was, I don't remember if questioning God or frustrated or what and God gently told her that He was not working on that area in her yet.  It was like an epiphany!  No, I realize that I know this deep down, but I cannot fix everything at once.  Like when the Israelites were going into the promised land and little by little they took ground.  It wasn't like Desert ---- Promised Land, BOOM!  No worries!  One thing at a time. Actually solving some things help with others and sometimes eliminates a need to fix other things. 
A house needs a foundation.  A good one.  Let me make sure my foundation is right - ON CHRIST THE SOLID ROCK I STAND.  Okay!  Well since salvation is worked out daily, this is an ongoing process so now I keep this going and because of my love for God, I work on my marriage and my love for my husband is an image of Christ's love for the church.  Actually backward, my marriage should be in the image of Christ's love for the church, because that is perfect and ours is not.  A healthy marriage will help me with self image.  My husband is way more kind to me than I am to myself.  I included self separate from marriage and not because I believe that we are separate, we are one.  I included it because my husband cannot make me eat right and exercise and like who I am and what I look like.  I'm not talking Jezebel adornment, but out of love for those around me, I need to shower and dress appropriately.
So if I am self-confident (not prideful or separate from, or non-reliant on God), have a healthy marriage and a daily relationship with God, the overflow will affect my family.  My children will benefit!  If I have a strong family, my ministry will be more effective, my friendships will be stronger and even beyond that, my witness will be more effective.  To clarify, I am not a paid minister.  I have some ministries that I'm involved in or lead, but you don't have to lead anything to have a ministry.
I ask that readers not pick apart and analyze the order in which I listed.  This isn't some formula for everyone and I likely will not have to systematically go through each step each time I fail in an area, but I do know that if I'm faltering in #1, I am very weak in the rest of these things.  That to me is a non-negotiable number 1.  Really, marriage is a non-negotiable #2.  The rest are sometimes dynamic, they overlap and change order.  I haven't always gotten 1 and 2 right. 
Another aspect of having the foundation in Christ is Holy Spirit.  I Corinthians 3:16 says, "Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?" ESV  Father.  Son.  Holy Spirit.  Having one is having all.  If we pay attention, Holy Spirit will highlight areas that we need to work on.  Recognizing that urging or knowing the right thing to do is not hard, but desiring to follow it is.  I KNOW that sometimes I am sensing the Holy Spirit's direction, but I don't want to obey, so I shove it aside and do something else.  Even in my darkest years of rebellion, I knew when I was doing wrong and made a choice to do wrong.
So now I look upon my life and recognize that I, in my own power am not able to live even remotely an exemplary life.  I can, however, work out my salvation daily and follow His Spirit even when I don't want to.  Do I stop and pray every moment before I do anything?  No.  Do I pray without ceasing?  Sometimes my days are a constant prayer, others not.  Do I pause and pray when I don't know what to do next?  Often.  Do I pray when I'm desperate?  Pretty much!  I am more dependent in desperation than in prosperity and I'm sure many people would say the same.  I'm really striving to live by the Spirit and live in an attitude of prayer.  I'm learning that sometimes non-action is the correct action.  There are times where I'm desperately asking for what I should do and I'm hearing NOTHING!  Well, sometimes I just need to understand that, no action is exactly why I'm not hearing anything when I ask what I need to DO. 
Let us strive to know the Voice of Truth so that we know when to respond rightly.  The enemy is tricky and would love for us to say, "no," to God's voice.  The enemy would love to have us think that we are obeying by changing a few words or getting us to argue or fight about trivial things with others who are Christians.  The best way of knowing the voice of Truth is to read the Bible for ourselves.  When we know the real deal, we will be able to recognize the imitation.

Monday, October 6, 2014

In spite of us

This weekend we watched the Rich Mullins story on Netflix.  Rich Mullins was an inspiration to me, I remember when he died thinking that there was so much more for him to do, but God took him home.  I was just inspired by his music because it was raw and real.  I never followed the artist himself to see what a wreck his life was.  God still used him, though.  Now as I see parts of my life that are laid bare and pretty ugly, I know that God uses me in spite of my inadequacies and frailty. 
I watched a video testimony years ago from a man named John Mulinde.  Not sure of the spelling.  Several parts of it impacted me, but one thing stands out right now that God worked through John in spite of John and not because of John.  I said something similar as our church did an outreach last Saturday.  Today it was reflected back to me as I shared that I woke up from a dream where someone was telling me that I'm unfit to be in church leadership anywhere.  Many are unfit, but God uses us in spite of us.
This morning I finished a devotional on YouVersion entitled, You Remain - My Personal Wrestling Match With God by Tim Timmons.  He challenges readers to meditate on the first part of John 15 for a whole week. 
John 14:1-8 NIV  “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.   
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."
Yay for the pruning... not really, it hurts!  So here I am knowing that the good fruit that is coming from God.  In spite of me.  Thankful for friends who pour out life giving words and walk with me through my depravity.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Getting Started

There are so many things in life that we plan to do.  From Bible Studies, to diets, to higher education we are always planning the next thing.  I am personally planning how to sell some of my handmade goods and starting to work on a healthier lifestyle.  I can envision myself exercising and having a small business, but unless I execute these decisions, there is no fruit in planning.
My church began to study a book called, A Life that Wins, by Mike Holt on the first weekend in September.  We are reading the book and doing daily studies and small group studies and a sermon series from this book.  The first chapter was routine information for any time that we want to make a lasting change in our lives.  Though the wording was a little different than other books, the same principles are introduced in most "programs" that will help you get out of a rut.  The twist is that in the midst of doing something for yourself, you are encouraged to do a personal outreach as well.  This is reaching out to someone that is unchurched to just be a friend and introduce them to a relationship with Christ.  I'm so not good at that!
So during that first chapter we were challenged to make a hinge decision for our personal goals.  My hinge decision was in the area of fitness.  I followed the instructions and wrote out a plan.  I made it detailed with the goal, steps toward the goal, deadlines and rewards.  I am literally worse off now in week 4 than week 1.  I am 4 pounds heavier and much lazier than I was when I started.  It's as if a rebellion has risen up within me against getting out of bed in the morning to exercise.  When I eat an unhealthy thing, I eat 4 because I already slipped up.  The thoughts have welled up within me about not ever really starting in the first place and we're already 4 weeks in and so I might as well coast through the rest.  I can lose weight and become fit another day.  My unchurched friend is churched after all.  I'm teaching our small group and I'm probably the biggest failure in my class.
HAHA!  Mike apparently knew I'd feel this way because this week's first lesson, first paragraph says, "It is an important week because at the half-way point of any kind of spiritual commitment you make, fatigue can settle in, the enemy can come against you, and you can either choose to backpedal on your hinge decision  or allow it to become permanent in our life." ~Week 4 Day 22  I'm not just backpedalling, I haven't really pedaled anywhere to backpedal from!  I am really enjoying the readings in this book and would recommend it to anyone who is curious about it.  I feel that there is a richness to different parts of the Word that he brings out.  That is not the sole intent of this book, so I'm back in the same place that I land so often.  In the middle of a challenge and have missed the mark so far that I'm feeling done.

Farmers who wait for perfect weather...

Last Sunday as our Pastor's wife read a portion of the Bible before offering time, I was triggered by another phrase and looked it up.  Yes, I get sidetracked easily!  The passage was Ecclesiastes 11:4 "Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant.  If they watch every cloud, they never harvest."  NLT  I've been reading each daily reading of this book with that scripture in mind.  I have been meditating on it for the whole week so far.
What is perfect weather?  Well for me and the goal of fitness, it usually means the beginning of a week.  Monday and not Sunday because we have a different schedule on Sundays than any other day of the week.  It means that I'm beginning a new book, devotional or diet kick starter.  It means I'm waiting for someone who truly wants to be my partner in accountability is ready at the same time as I am.  It means after I make out a better menu and go to the grocery store or get a perfect night's sleep.  I can wait and wait for perfect weather, but I will never begin my journey with fitness.
Spiritually speaking, what is perfect weather?  When I get my life straightened out first, then I will start on the thing God is calling me to.  After I quit smoking I will start going to church.  When my friend asks me about church, I will invite them to join me.  When I don't have any appointments for a week, I will do a 7 day fast.  When I make enough money, I will start to tithe.
Perfect weather is a VERY rare thing.  Sometimes it comes along, but I'm married to a farmer and he is a master at this.  Even if we get rain that we've been praying for, I will be excited and bring it up with him.  It either rained too much (extremely rare), too little, too much wind with it, too quick, not in the right field.  I tease my husband often about never being satisfied or being pessimistic, but farmers are more in tune with the weather than most.  I was hoping my husband would come home early from corn harvesting last night because of the rain we got the night before, but as soon as the ground was able to hold a combine, he was back in the field to harvest.  Bring it in!  If a cloudy day or a forecast of rain scared him out of the field, the grain would rot without ever being harvested.  If they waited for ideal planting conditions, they may not get the planting done.
Figuratively speaking, there are always situations that would scare us "out of the field."  I like to call them reasons, but really they are excuses.  There is an old hymn that say,  "Just as I am..."  God does take us just as we are.  Romans 5:8 says, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." NIV  It doesn't say that when the weather of our lives is perfect, His death is for us.  Truly, if we were to try to be good or do good without His grace or Holy Spirit, we would be unsuccessful.  Sure, back in week 1 the weather for me was more perfect because as a linear thinker actually starting something in the middle of the process.  Regardless, I need to make today my starting point or else I will never start.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Why we didn't show

There are certain times of year my family chooses to stay home and this is one of them.  It started over 11 years ago, that much I am sure of because my husband and I struggled with infertility.  We were learning about the feasts of the Bible and decided to look into the meaning of "Christian" holidays.  We discovered the fertility goddess who is known by multiple names: Ishtar, Estera, Ashoreth, Ashera, and probably other forms including Easter.  There are many resources that say various things that we have reviewed through the years and they say similar things about the practices that revolve around the celebration and worship if this goddess.
If one would look her up they would see that she in some form fell from the sky in an egg in the area of the Euphrates river.  There are several variations of a story about people having orgies around her shrine or in her honor and one particular one shares that those impregnated during this celebration would return the next year and sacrifice these 3 month old infants to the goddess.  Some references go as far as to say they took eggs and dyed them in the blood of the infants to make the original Estera Egg.
As a woman who'd had at least one miscarriage of three at the point of reading this, I vowed then never to dye another Easter egg.  The whole idea actually repulsed me and still does.  I chose to trust The Living God, Jehovah, YHWH to give me children and have nothing to do with Easter celebrations.  My husband was in full agreed and actually was a partner in this research.  We came to the same conclusion at the same time.  
In fact, our church body had been doing research on holidays and little by little collected pieces of information on several celebrations such as Halloween and Christmas that changed the way we celebrated.  At the same time that we learned about those things we began researching the feasts of the Bible and started celebrating them.  Anyone who would argue that we are just replacing "fun" holidays with the feasts actually have it backward.  As culture changed, people began to forget the feasts and call them a Jewish thing and started embracing other seasonal celebrations.  It didn't start as an intent to worship idols, but to have a party.  I don't think most people who celebrate some of these holidays are intending to worship idols, but are just enjoying a celebration. 
My family DOES celebrate resurrection and Christ's birth, but we also celebrate Passover, the feast of dedication (Hanukkah), Purim, Sukkot, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashannah.  I believe that Jesus came to fulfill the feasts of the Bible and learning about the feasts helps us to know Him better.  No, it is not required for Gentiles and no, we don't celebrate like the Jews or have week long celebrations.  We study them and have small celebrations.  We are ever learning and considering what, who and why we celebrate.  We have raised our two children without trick or treating, without the Easter Bunny and without Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or leprechauns.  They are doing just fine.
We have since moved to an area where we would find a new church and have gone to the one that we believe God called us to.  It is different in many ways from our former church and some of them are very good for us as a family.  Others are hard to adjust to, but when God calls you to be a part of a "family," you can't leave the family because you don't agree with 100% of the things they do.  When the kids had a costume party in October, we stayed home that night.  When they have Easter Egg Hunts, we just don't participate.  It sounds like we are just cold and don't consider the entire thing, but it is a big deal and we choose as a family and talk to our children about the choice and give them an opportunity to say everything they want even if they think we won't like it.
This year I would say has to be the most difficult one for me personally.  The church is putting on an outreach to evangelize, which is what it is every year.  This year's is in a different location than before to accommodate larger crowds and bring in more people.  The goal is to minister to the community and present the Truth about The Ressurrection.  There are many fun activities planned and when it was first announced I was very conflicted.  I pictured where I could be used, but did not sign up as I needed to pray about the whole thing.  My daughter wanted to go in hopes to win a new bike and we needed to make a decision so we could talk with our kids.  My husband and I discussed, prayed and researched.
I have been reading in 2 Kings and one king would come and cut down the Ashera poles, the next would allow them to be re-erected, the next would cut them down.  Those that cut them down pleased The Lord.  I didn't find a place where they went to the Ashera celebrations and converted people to follow God.  Also as we researched and again found Ashera and Easter are the same, I could not justify in my heart participating in that ministry event.  Easter wasn't even celebrated in the US for it's first 100 or more years.  Additionally, there have been a few people from foreign countries who know my husband is a Christian and they've asked him why we in America celebrate Easter the way we do.  Other cultures see that the eggs and bunny and other various holiday symbols are not Christian.  They recognize that Easter and resurrection are 2 completely separate things.
Even though my husband and I had settled to follow through with the convictions we've held for over a decade we still needed to have our family discussion.  My daughter was more interested in winning a bike than going to the egg hunt. My son was indifferent.  We agree that we support our church and if we were directly asked, we would assist with portions that we need to for our church to succeed.  We also agree that no one in our church is there to worship the goddess, but hope to plant the seed of Jesus into participants.  Why not us?  Our family feels that to do this would be to compromise our convictions.  
Some friends and family will never understand our decision and may even judge us and I can live with that.  I enjoy being asked to help even when I can't, but this year, knowing our convictions, we were not approached.  For a brief moment, it felt like rejection, but it was actually respect.  We especially want to engrain in our children the Biblical holidays and not their alternatives.  Each family must choose what they will.  If this post gives you a greater conviction to evangelize Easter, then great, do it.  Mostly I would like people to understand why they choose what they choose and not just make a choice because that is what they've always done.  I did that again this year.  This article from Answers In Genesis gives more historical background.