Wrestling with God

23244064_10154804645976566_8726418287531572848_nHave you ever thought about what it’s like to wrestle with God?  After all, in Genesis 32:24-32, Jacob had a wrestling match with God just prior to reuniting with his brother, Esau.  It could happen to any of us, too.  And right now, that’s exactly what I feel like is happening in my heart.

It’s as if I have to choose between a good thing and something better.  The wrestling part comes in when deciding which decision belongs in which category.  I value both deeply and have to decide which treasure carries greater weight in my heart.  One has to do with self-sacrifice.  One has to do with self-preservation and gain.  One has to do with those dearest to me, the other with complete strangers.  One revolves around the familiar, the other around the unknown.

What is this decision weighing so heavily on me?  It’s that of missions.  My husband has felt God calling him to the mission field, probably that of the foreign variety, specifically to unreached people groups…likely for the long term.  The trouble is that I haven’t felt that strong tug toward foreign missions like he has.

We would probably have to leave everything familiar, with limited visits back.  It would probably require doing a little more schooling and learning a new language(s), facing loneliness (even if only for a short time), missing being present for our extended families’ major events, our nieces and nephews possibly not knowing us or our children very well, our parents missing out on their grandchildren growing up and our kids possibly not knowing their grandparents as closely, and our siblings not knowing their nieces and nephew well.  It might mean learning to home school my kids and working out our day-to-day lives in close proximity to each other (I can only imagine our stress sometimes).  It would mean complete dependence on God’s provision for our finances (something we should already be doing…but might not be very good at doing).  It would probably mean a “downgrade” in our comfortable, American way of living.

On the flip side, going means that those who haven’t heard the name of Jesus would finally have heard the good news that impacts their eternity.  It would be an adventure of a lifetime…and I do love adventures!  I and my family would be able to witness changed hearts and point the way to Jesus to who knows how many people!  We would be able to teach others what we have personally learned through God’s Word and through our experiences walking with and wrestling with Him.  We could love the unloved, serve the needy, and be the hands and feet of Jesus.  Such a mission would give us such great, fulfilling purpose!

The eternity of others should matter more than my personal wants.  But I can’t yet come to grips with the notion of leaving those I love behind.  If I could bring them all along I’d be on board in a heartbeat…but that isn’t reality.  I love them all so deep and so hard!  I get emotional at the distance between us where we currently are that I have a difficult time thinking of it being broader.  Scripture tells us that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  (Matthew 6:21)  So does this mean I treasure my extended family and my comforts more than the eternal state of the souls of others simply because I can’t bring myself to say yes I’ll go?  Possibly.

I find myself between a rock and a hard place.  I want to be a help-meet to my husband and be on the same page with him, wholeheartedly following after him and serving with him.  Yet I want to be here, in my homeland, when our parents get to the point where they need care regularly.  I witnessed first-hand the joy, hardship, and blessing that comes with caring for the aged full-time as my parents cared for both sets of my grandparents.  I want to be that for our parents.  Both are great and wonderful things.  How can I choose between them?  These years are precious to me for so many different reasons.

And then I began to contemplate a decade from now when our children are grown and would possibly move stateside and start families of their own.  Would I have to miss that too?  My heart breaks in a million different pieces.  I do not want to miss any of those moments.  God tells us not to worry so often in Scripture, and every tough situation He has walked me through has always resulted in His taking care of circumstances just right.  There is nothing saying we’d have to miss these things a decade (or whenever) from now.  It’s just my constant, fruitless worrying over things that may or may not happen.

So how do I decide?  I’m not sure.  I’m not at that point yet.  God and I are still wrestling and working this thing out.  I don’t know how long our match will last.  I do know that He is patient, kind, and good.  I know he is just and would not ask something of me if He would not provide for the needs of my heart.  I know He will guide me as I look to Him for wisdom and guidance.

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Forgiving Hearts

Sunshine and Dandilons Oct 2017

 

Maintaining a forgiving heart and attitude is essential, y’all.  Catherine Marshall said it well: “Our relationships with other people are of primary importance to God. Because God is love, He cannot tolerate any unforgiveness or hardness in us toward any individual.”  If believers are called to be becoming more and more like Christ – and we are – we must strive toward a constant and continual attitude of love and forgiveness.

We cannot set a limit on what we are willing to forgive. After all, did Jesus say he would only forgive so much? Nope! And thank the good Lord He didn’t, for we’d all be up a creek.  Because we aren’t perfect, we have a goof-up moments…our moments of weakness and yielding to our fleshly desires to hold grudges and remain angry.  But we cannot stay in that place.

The Apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4:26-27:  “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.”  He is referring to a passage in Psalm 4:4-5: “Tremble, and do not sin; Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still.  Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and trust in the LORD.”  What is Paul really wanting us to remember?  God is the ultimate judge, and our petty grievances with one another pale in comparison to the wrath of God which is reserved for the devil and his demons, and for those who choose to turn from Him, or who choose to not believe in the gift of saving grace.  If someone makes a decision deserving of judgment, leave that to God to do:  “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)

God IS love.  It is a part of His nature and character, not simply and action He takes on a frequent basis.  He IS love, just like He IS just, peace, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and good.  It is a part of what makes Him God, and He will accept nothing less from His children.  In His act of ultimate forgiveness, Jesus – the God-man Son of God Himself – sacrificed His earthly body on a cruel Roman cross, endured the wrath of the Father and the loneliness of the Father turning His face away, all to forgive the sins of the entire human race from beginning to its future end, which brings Him ultimate glory.  He then rose from death and the grave victorious over sin and Satan, and when we believe, He gives us the Holy Spirit with whose power we are able to overcome our fleshly habits of sin.

Our sins are completely forgiven.  It can’t get any better than this.  How, then, can we justify withholding forgiveness from others for words spoken and deeds done that are less than a slight against the living God?  We simply can’t.  God desires relationship.  He desires relationship with His children, and He desires to reflect that relationship with the people he places around us – be they our family, our friends, our acquaintances, or the stranger on the street or in the grocery store.  To refuse forgiveness to another person is to refuse to become more like Him.  It is a smite in the character of God, in essence declaring Him to be imperfect and unworthy of imitation.

We must make a choice.  Will we choose to grow and become more like our Savior?  Or will we declare by our choices and our actions that He is unworthy of our complete devotion and imitation?  Choose this day whom you will serve:  Yourself…..or the Living and Holy God of Creation.

A Little Hope for the Day

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If you are in need of a little hope this morning, look no further than Psalm 130!  God hears us when we cry out to Him.  He cares about the intricacies of our lives, and has forgiven us our faults.  Seek the Lord with all that is within you, for He has done great things with us and for us, and all of the circumstances in your life – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the in-between – will ultimately lead to His glory…because that’s just how He rolls.

Psalm 130

Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD.  Lord, hear my voice!  Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.  If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.  I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning; indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.  O Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is lovingkindness, and with Him is abundant redemption.  And He will redeem Israel for all his iniquities.

Life or Death

September New Virginia
Sometimes we forget to sit back and listen to God’s Word for its face value.  The Bible is living and active, and God speaks volumes to us if we will simply listen.  God charged His people (and as believers this carries over to us today) to make a choice – that their quality of life depended on the choices they were to make.  In the midst of all that, Peter’s words give clarity on what our day to day business should consist of.  Be diligent and intentional about your words and what you spend your time and energy doing.
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.” Deuteronomy 30:19-20
 
“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”  1 Peter 4:8-10
*Italic emphasis mine

Perspective

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“The proper perspective creates within us a spirit of reaching outside of ourselves with joy and enthusiasm.” ~Luci Swindoll
 
Oh, friends! It is never too late to begin seeing the people and the world around you through the proper perspective!  
Think about it.  When you consider current events, both public and personal, a glass half empty perspective will only keep your spirits down.  You’ll be depressed and downtrodden, and most likely pretty miserable to be around.  Conversely, a glass half full attitude creates such joyous atmosphere inside of you that it overflows for everyone to enjoy, yourself included.  Life takes on a renewed vigor and meaning when you look forward to the day with optimism.
When you add in friends and fellow believers to the mix of joy and happiness, oh how much more full the joy!  In the book of Romans, Paul lays out a fantastic recipe for success in godly living.  Though easy to say, it takes an intentional heart to accomplish.  When lived out, the blessings of joy are without limits.
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable, to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.  For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.  For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly; if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.  Let love be without hypocrisy.  Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, preserving in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly.  Do not be wise in your own estimation.  Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.  Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,’ says the Lord.  ‘BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Romans 12:1-21

Lending Lavishly

 

I don’t know about you, but oftentimes I’m ridiculously stingy.  I’m stingy about my monetary resources, my possessions, my personal preferences, and my time.  What’s mine is mine…am I right?!  I usually fail to see my faults until after it’s too late, to my discredit.  God calls me – and every other believer – to something so much higher and outside of myself…if only I’ll have eyes to see it.

In a last-ditch effort to get in some quiet time with God this afternoon before my kids get home from school and life gets chaotic, I opened my small daily devotional book and my Bible.  What a fantastic start, right?  Why on earth and I letting this precious time be a last-minute thing?  Anyhow…I digress.  Today’s Scripture came from Psalm 112:5a:  “The good person is generous and lends lavishly.”  (MSG)  Ouch!  Knife to the heart, and pain in my toes!  Since my Bible is a different translation, I decided to see if it read any differently.  It said, “It is well with the man who is gracious and lends; He will maintain his cause in judgment.”  (NASB)  Nope.  It still hurt my heart to read it.

God certainly wastes no time in getting to the heart of the matter when it comes to my sin.  My stubborn pride has come out in full force lately when dealing with my children and in disagreements with my husband.  It goes something like this:  “I am mom!  You will listen and obey!”  or “I’m right and you/we just need to do this my way!”

With my kids, while it remains true that it is in their best interest to be obedient and respectful, I surely fail at being gracious.  As the Scripture says…it is WELL with those who are gracious.  Graciousness and firmness can work hand in hand.  However, in the heat of the moment, I tend to lose my cool and throw grace and compassion out the window.  The same is true of my relationship with my husband.  Often I forget to be gracious with opening up to his wants and opinions.  I dig my heels in demanding my way or the highway, when in reality I have been called to be his “help-meet”, not his leader.  Standing in stark opposition to him while keeping a closed mind helps no one, least of all him.

In respect to those outside my family circle, I like to think I lend generously and am gracious.  Perhaps I am more gracious to outsiders than to those I love and cherish more dearly.  Still…I fall short.  For instance, if someone needs a babysitter for an afternoon so errands be run or an appointment kept, sometimes I answer with a resounding “yes, I will!”  Other times, I think about how I just want to relax and not be “on duty” for someone else’s kids, then finagle a reason why I cannot help meet their need.  On the same note, let’s say one of my kids really wants to play ball with me or wants me to sit with them during a movie, I struggle with lending my time to my children.

Lending, I believe, is not restricted to money, though it definitely DOES often refer to monetary resources.  Time and talents come into play as well.  Should I, myself, get on the ball with correcting my blunders, a myriad of options await me.  I can lean heavily on the Spirit during times of conflict within my home so that I can respond with grace, regardless of the circumstances.  I can seek the Lord in my disagreements with my husband instead of insisting that I am always right.  I can seek out individuals who could benefit from my time, talents, and treasures for the express purpose of generosity.

Not one bit of this change can come solely from me.  Personal change can only come from within by the Lord Himself.  In order to accomplish my goal, I must endeavor to seek His will, and be in continual prayer and spend time in God’s Word.  Without doing so, I lose sight of Him and most certainly will temporarily forget the lessons I have learned today.  God desires me – US – to seek Him and rely on His strength.  In doing so we can be happy and content, knowing that God does indeed work all things together for good, and that the benefits of extending His grace, and of being His hands and feet to others, far outweigh the unsatisfactory satisfaction I get from being hard-nosed and stingy.  After all, God tells us in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

If I choose pride and selfishness over generosity and grace, the blessings and benefits will be pitifully insignificant.  If I choose to give of myself, but do so grudgingly, I will only see a glass half-empty instead of the immaterial blessings that occur.  God loves His children to give as He gives of Himself.  In so doing, we more clearly reflect Him.

So how about you?  Is it time for a gut-check on your lending?  Do you lavish grace on others with a thankful heart for how Christ lavished His on us?  Take time to examine your behavior, and make an effort to align (or realign!) your heart with that of Jesus!

Grace and peace to you!

Out of His Abundance

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Tired.  Oh so mentally and physically exhausted.  Such is state of many church leaders and workers.  Often they number few and carry loads for their churches with nary a rest.  There is good news for those who fall into this category!  Jesus does not require from you only work.  He also gives to his workers from His abundance.

In John 6:1-14, Jesus had finished up His tasks at hand and went away from where he was to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  The people weren’t done listening and seeing him work miracles on the sick, though, and they followed Him.  He went up on the mountain and purposefully chose a grassy location.  The crowd following him was HUGE!  I can imagine the disciples’ trains of thought including thoughts such as “can we not just have a moments’ peace?!” and “Jesus…come on, man…we’re tired!”

Jesus knew their thoughts.  He’d been with them and knew how tired they were.  Yet he asked them to do a bit more.  Knowing the disciple Philip was from a town not too many miles away, He inquired of Philip where they could buy bread to feed the mass crowd that had followed them.  The Passover was approaching, and Jesus knew the people would likely not have time to all find food and lodging in sufficient time to be prepared.

Jesus never missed an opportunity to test His disciples in their faith.  This time, Philip needed to understand financial resources are not always the most important.  Philip did some mental calculating instead of just saying a place to buy bread from.  He said that 200 days’ wages wouldn’t be sufficient to feed everyone even a little, for the crowd numbered at least 5,000 men, not including any women and children.  Talk about a huge bill!

Another disciple, Andrew, took a look around and discovered a young boy with a personal meal of five barley loaves and two fish.  Jesus was in the business of showing the power and love of God, so he had the disciples tell the people to sit down on the grassy mountainside (note Jesus’s foresight in location).  He took the bread, gave thanks to God the Father, and distributed the bread.  Then he did likewise with those two fish.  I can imagine the confused and astounded faces of the disciples as they helped him feed the masses!  How could there possibly be more every time they came back with empty baskets?

Jesus miraculously caused that five loaves of bread and two fish to feed 5,000+ people until they were full and satisfied!  Not only did he provide for the people who had followed him up the mountain, He provided abundantly from a resource that seemed much too small.  Oh, we of little faith!

Yet, He didn’t stop there.  Remember, the disciples had probably been exhausted BEFORE this huge community meal!  Jesus instructed them again, this time telling them to pick up the leftovers so that nothing would be lost.  How many leftovers could there be from only five loaves of bread and two fish between that many people?  So…the disciples obeyed.  Twelve baskets with fragments remained.  TWELVE BASKETS FULL!  There was enough for all twelve disciples to also eat their fill.  Jesus did not forget his workers/disciples.  He knew their needs.  They obeyed Him, and He gave to them, also, from His abundance.

Following Jesus will more times than not be hard, tiring, and seem never-ending.  Often, resources will seem depleted as if you have nothing left to offer anyone – monetarily, materially, or personally.  However, God always provides exactly what is needed for task at hand, whether it is material needs or strength and endurance.  On top of that, He will take care of the worker.  Workers will not have to ONLY give and never be provided for; He knows their needs and gives to them accordingly as well.

He asks of us our faith that He has gone before us and that He knows what we need, and that He will make provisions accordingly, both for the servant and for those served.