Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Weeding Impurity Out of Life's Garden

My mother used to keep a vegetable garden.  When I was barely more than a toddler I'd tromp across the yard in my cutoff jeans, bare feet and swimsuit top as the hot summer breeze blew my stringy brown hair across my face, and head toward the stretch of soil overrun with vegetables I could hardly pronounce.  My mother would often be hacking away at the dirt with a hoe, digging out weeds with a pointed hand-shovel and tossing them into a bucket or on the grass over the 3-foot fence that kept the dogs out.

Often I'd sit like a little Cambodian child, in a flat-footed squat, and watch my mother do her thing.  She'd sigh and curse at the number of weeds that popped up every couple of days.  "That one just doesn't want to come out does it?"  "I don't know why there are so many after just one day!"  "...Don't know why I put up with this."  I'd just sit there and watch her yank and rip and chop and gently lift the leaves of her squash, pumpkins, peas, green beans, cabbage and tomatoes and ensure nothing was suffocating them.  She hated to weed, but did it anyway because she knew it was necessary for her garden's survival.

It wasn't until years later I realized the importance of the job.  It seems pretty self explanatory when it comes to a vegetable garden.  Don't weed the garden, the weeds choke what you've planted and you no longer have a garden.  Metaphorically speaking, shouldn't that apply to our lives as well?

Our life is very much like a garden.  We plant seeds (dreams and goals) and if we want them to be more than just ideas we have to tend to them to ensure they become reality.  The "weeds" that can suffocate what we plant are sin, anything impure, and how we deal with those sins are going to determine whether or not we have a very fruitful garden or not.

The goal is to have a perfect garden, a pure one, and God will walk among our garden and help us find the weeds and teach us how to pull them out (2 Corinthians 6:17-7:1).  Webster's definition of pure is "unmixed with any other matter.  Free from dust, dirt or taint."  So if you want a pure garden, you have to keep only what you intend to be in the garden.  It is most certainly possible to plant pure things and have them turn impure (Jeremiah 2:21; Lamentations 4:1).  The fact is, weeds will pop up on a continual basis so we must continually purify our garden (Philippians 1:9-11).  The word "purify" is from the Greek (katharizo) meaning "to cleanse (literal and figurative); make clean, purge, purify."

Okay, so weeds.  They're nasty, thorny, smelly, irritating and just plain suck if we're being totally honest.  You try to grow good, delicious, healthy things and of course WEEDS, for no good reason, try to destroy that simply because they can and that's what they do.  You can't exactly spray Round-Up everywhere because then you'll kill what you've planted.  Weeds grow quickly, take root better than the thing you planted, and if ignored for even a day they wrap around what you were just admiring and try to kill it.  The weeds in life are no different, and can be even more deadly because they're difficult to see if you don't know what to look for.

What does the Bible say constitute as "weeds"?  Galatians 5:19-21 mentions sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and the like.  It says those who participate in such things can't inherit the kingdom of heaven.  1 Corinthians 6:9-10 adds homosexuality, thievery, greed, revilers, and swindlers to the list.  And the problem is if we continue to participate in and/or condone the growing weeds in our life, there are consequences (Hebrews 10:26-27).  Eventually your garden will simply be consumed. 

We cannot be pure before God (Job 4:17), but with Jesus we're justified (Romans 3:24; 5:1; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Galatians 2:16).  We cannot know purity apart from Jesus (1 John 3:1-3), and yet we are called to be pure (1 Timothy 5:22), which means we're called to know Jesus and be pure as he was pure (Ephesians 5:8-11).  Practically it means to weed your garden.  Your garden should be free of weeds and the only way you're going to know the difference between weeds and what you've planted, how to properly pull those weeds and prevent them from sprouting in the first place, is to understand what you're up against and read the book that gives you the "how-to" on weeding (Psalm 119:9).  The Bible.

Thus starts a series on purity angled from a woman's perspective particularly for unmarried women.  I'll address overcoming past abuse, temptation, understanding the sources of impurity, influences from the media, how big of an impact our thoughts can have on sowing impurity, and recognizing Satan's lies and fighting them with God's truth.  We'll see how 23 women in the Bible handled impurity and how it's absolutely relevant today and can help us in our consistent battle against the weeds of impurity.

If you've ever experienced trying to weed a garden that hasn't been tended to in years, it's not exactly an easy chore.  Your hands bleed, your back gets sore and knotted up, you sweat, get frustrated and eventually rent a CAT to do the job for you or just quit altogether.  Many of us haven't done any weeding at all in our lives, and what we have is our own two hands and the help of Jesus Christ who, thankfully, overcame every temptation and didn't have a single weed in his garden (Hebrews 4:15).

The big question is, is it worth it to do all that weeding?  It seems like an awful lot of work and you're right, it is.  The benefits, however, far outweigh the strain.  Remember when your mother used to say, "If you kept your room picked up in the first place it wouldn't take so long to clean!"  That's how it is once you get all those weeds out of your garden.  Once you have the tools to recognize where those weeds are most likely to sprout again, you get those callouses that come with all that pulling, and you get in the habit of checking your garden, maintaining it is going to be a lot easier than the initial clean-up (1 Peter 3:14), and God will be able to plant some pretty spectacular things in a pure garden.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

An Unfamiliar Virtue


Patience.

I used to think I understood what that meant.  Then I joined the Marine Corps.

What's odd is I never got my opportunity to deploy and do what Marines do; fire a weapon or go on a convoy or wear a kevlar (helmet) and flak jacket because I actually need to.  If it wasn't in a controlled environment, I didn't do it.  Not for a lack of wanting to.  I joined to do what Marines do, including digging my own sleep hole in the desert.  So I waited for my chance to come while friends and people newer to my unit than me were shipped overseas.

And I waited.

...and waited.

...and waited...

I waited until I thought I'd grow an ulcer or have an aneurysm.  I didn't realize until halfway into my circumstances that patience isn't a noun but a verb, and I didn't understand that I could do something about it until I'd almost given up.  Here's a little-known fact: patience is something you learn, it's never something you simply have, and learning it is often as painful as discovering your pain tolerance.

You learn how to grow in patience by, believe it or not, studying the Bible.  I've never known of another book to depict the ins and outs of waiting and having patience better than the Bible.

Consider Abraham.  The man was nearly 100 years old before he was given the son he and his wife had been praying to have for decades (Genesis 17).  He and his wife Sarah had figured it wasn't in the cards for their life, but God blessed them for their patience (Hebrews 6:15).  He didn't stop there; He made Abraham a father to many nations (Genesis 17:5).

Then there's Noah.  God told him to build a big boat in the middle of the desert where, it's said, there had never before been rain.  Not only that, but Noah was more than 500 years old when God gave him and his newborn sons this particular assignment (Genesis 6:13-14).  It took Noah and his sons roughly 120 years to build this boat (Genesis 6:3).  How many people do you think passed bye that family with taunts, calling them crazy and caused all sorts of vandalism?  Then, after being on the water for 40 days and 40 nights, Noah had to maintain his patience when he sent out several birds hoping to find evidence of land (Genesis 8:10).  Talk about being on your toes.

Moses killed an Egyptian and spent the next 40 years in the desert in hiding, waiting for something to happen (Acts 7:29-30) before God revealed himself to Moses in the form of a burning bush.  Moses had already re-created a life for himself with a wife and kids (Genesis 2:21-22)!  I'm sure the guilt over killing another person was constantly at the back of his mind during those years, wondering when someone might go looking for him.  Then when God finally convinced Moses to go back to Egypt, he spent anywhere from a few days to a year trying to convince Pharaoh that he needed to let thousands of Hebrews free.  I'd be a little skeptical if fire rained from the sky and Pharaoh still didn't budge.  That takes patience.  THEN, in Exodus 10, Moses was called to the Mountain of the Lord to spend 40 days and 40 nights waiting for God to give him the Ten Commandments and confirm the covenant God had made with Noah.

Then, of course, there's Ruth.  When she thought she might have screwed things up with Boaz, her only chance for a husband, love and dignity (after the death of her previous husband), her mother-in-law Naomi tells her to wait and see what Boaz does (Ruth 3:18).  Nothing worse than waiting on a man to decide how he feels about you.

David's life is nothing but a bunch of waiting (2 Samuel 15:28)!

My point with this is that it's always worth it to wait on God (Psalm 25:5; Lamentations 3:25-26).  Is it easy?  Not at all (Job 6:11; Psalm 69:3; Habakkuk 3:16; 2 Timothy 3:10-11; Hebrews 6:11-12).  However, the renewal that comes from waiting is worth it (Job 14:14).

What are you waiting for?  Is it in line with God's will for your life?  I waited for two years to deploy and while I never got that opportunity, my prayer went from asking God to let me do my duty and deploy, to begging him to give me the ability to maintain my integrity and grow, somehow, in the midst of the persecution during my wait - regardless of the end results. 

Keep waiting on and hoping in the Lord (Psalm 27:14; 31:24; 62:5; 130:5; Isaiah 8:17), even if it takes a while for good to come (Job 30:26) because He is our help and shield from persecution (Psalm 33:20). Don't worry about the evil you see prospering in the world, and boy does there seem to be a lot of it - keep waiting on God (Psalm 37:7) and no shame will come to you (Psalm 25:3; Isaiah 49:23).  While you're waiting keep your hope in the Father (Psalm 39:7), He hears you (Micah 7:7) and notices when you're patient (Psalm 40:1).  Not only that, but if you pray and wait on God, He'll answer (Psalm 38:15).

Focusing on maintaining your integrity and uprightness helps with the waiting process (Psalm 25:21).  When I stopped focusing on how frustrating it was to be let down - again and again - and started focusing on how each let down was a chance to build on my faith in God and his promises it was easier to wait.  (By the way, nowhere in the Bible does God promise "Sam I Am will deploy to Afghanistan").  Remembering how God came through in the past kept me from losing patience (Psalm 106:13; 119:95).  Not just the works He did in the Old Testament, but the works He's done for me personally - and when I really sat down to think about it, there were many.

There are benefits to waiting on the Lord.  He saves you (Isaiah 25:9), He blesses you (Isaiah 30:18) and is gracious to you (Isaiah 33:2), He renews your strength (Isaiah 40:31; 42:4), He is good and always comes through (Psalm 52:9) even if it's not in the way you expected.

Ever considered that patience could persuade your boss (Proverbs 25:15)?  If you want your ministry, however small or large, to prosper, patience is one of the essential qualities you and your ministry must have (2 Corinthians 6:3-10).  Not only that, but patience can determine your salvation (Psalm 37:9, 34; Romans 2:6-7; Colossians 1:11-12) because the soul waits for the Lord alone (Psalm 62:1).  We're called to wait on the Lord and hold fast to both love and justice in the midst of our wait (Hosea 12:6).

I never did get to deploy, and there were many times I wanted to scream because God seemed to have forgotten me and my desires entirely.  I distinctly remember a moment in those two years I blatantly decided not to remain steadfast in my faith in God and do things my own way - the harder way - and wound up with my tail between my legs and following God anyway.  I had a vision to get out of the service with an honorable discharge, my integrity intact and grow in my relationship with God and while it seemed to come at the rate of molasses pouring on a winter day, it did come (Habakkuk 2:3).  I was honorably discharged, I'd learned that God ALWAYS has a reason for us being where we are, in the position we're in, at the time we're there - waiting is never just waiting (Acts 17:16) and ended up wanting God and his will more than anything else (Isaiah 26:8).  It's funny how easy it is to surrender when God doesn't give you much of a choice.

What's great about this is God's merely asking you to hold up your end of the relationship.  He is the epitome of patience.  Paul calls himself the greatest example of God's patience (1 Timothy 1:16).  The 40 years God waited for the Israelites to get their heads on strait as they wandered the desert (Numbers 32:13) should also be an indicator, and the fact that God sent his only son to die for our sins as a last resort so he might bring us to Him - since we failed so miserably at obeying when God's patience waited in the days of Noah (1 Peter 3:18-20).  Besides, how often do you fail to live up to the standards God calls you to live?  I know I do it far more than I'd prefer, and yet He remains patient with me while I persevere.

I thought I was doing just fine even though I had a very short fuse, but patience is part of the fruit we produce as a result of having the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24).  We're to walk in the standard we've been called, and patience is part of that standard (Ephesians 4:1-3).  God will give us individual guidance (Numbers 9:8) so don't repay evil for evil when someone does you wrong, but wait for God to deliver you (Proverbs 20:22).  Saul is a perfect example of what happens when we're impatient (1 Samuel 13:13-14).  When God makes a promise, He comes through - so wait on those promises (Acts 1:4), which include a new heaven and new earth (Hebrews 6:15; 2 Peter 3:13).  It'll come.

We'll suffer, there's no doubt about it.  We've established that waiting isn't easy and throughout life there will be times of suffering, but that doesn't excuse us from the call to have patience and wait on the Lord to come through (James 5:7,10).  Faith and the Spirit help in times of groaning too deep for words, so in the midst of that suffering hope for what you don't see with patience (Romans 8:24-26).

Believe it or not, those who wait for God, see Him (Isaiah 64:4).  It's miraculous how much of Himself God's revealed to me through his disciples, his creation, and in ways I never expected to see Him simply by having faith, waiting for Him to do as He says He'll do.  I haven't mastered this thing called patience, but I'm learning.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

What's in a Friend?

One of the women I love most in this world, I fight with more than anyone else I've ever met.  No, it's not my mother.  I've known this woman since she was about twelve years old, and have loved her more deeply than a sister.  The only thing that separates us is the two years in age difference.

To see the growth she's accomplished over the years is, to say the least, remarkable.  She's the kind of miracle you'd expect to never have lived beyond adolescence, the kid you wouldn't blame if she checked out.  To know her past is to break your heart, but to know the woman she is today makes you want to praise God because my friend is an absolute walking miracle.  She challenges me to live up to the higher standard that we as disciples are called to live when initially I'd rather stay my comfortable sinful self.  Sarcasm is her humor of choice and often I don't follow along but she has the kind of heart for lost souls that I can only aspire to.  My blunt, stubborn, independent self aggravates her; her blunt, stubborn, jokingly condescending attitude aggravates me.  We butt heads quite often.

Recently we got into an argument that laid a weight on my heart for days, caused some tears and those pretty blue moons we women love so much under our eyes.  We each had our sin, I do believe a part of it was each of us were trying so hard to be the kind of friend we believed was a "good" friend and didn't understand why the other wasn't feeling encouraged.  The argument led me to my Bible with a bit more fervent study than I normally do because I realized I wasn't certain what it had to say about what made a friend a truly good friend. 

I've learned quite a bit in my friendship with this wonderful woman, and the other men and women (in particular) in the church have taught me about the Kingdom family and in it I've come to discover what it is that makes a godly friendship work.  Have I mastered it?  Not a chance.  But I can tell you where to look to work on it!

What Does God Say?
  • If you withhold kindness from a friend then prepare for the wrath of God.  (Job 6:14)
  • There are severe ramifications for repaying a friend with evil.  (Psalm 7:4)
  • When giving a feast, invite those who can't repay you.  Not just your friends.  (Luke 14:12)
  • God was friends, in all it's meaning, with Abraham.  He gave generously to Abraham, as well as to the children's, children's, children's, children (etc.) and he looked out for them as long as they lived.  (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23)
  • God wants a friendship with YOU in particular. (Job 29:4)  So fear him with reverence and receive that friendship.  (Psalm 25:14)
  • Don't be friends with an angry, wrathful man (or woman).  (Proverbs 22:24)
  • There are benefits to remaining close to family but one shouldn't hesitate to turn to a true friend when in need.  (Proverbs 27:7, 9 and 8, 10)
  • Your husband/wife shouldn't only be your lover and companion, but your friend as well. (Song of Solomon 5:16)
  • False prophets and the friends they spread the wrong message to will go to hell. (Jeremiah 20:6)
  • You and your friends, when following God's will for your life, are a symbol to others. (Zechariah 3:8)
  • Don't take up reproach against your friend (among other things in the given scripture) and you'll never be moved.  (Psalm 15:1-5)
  • When God works in your life, tell your friends! (Mark 5:19)
  • Jesus calls us friends as he tells us to fear the Father who sent him.  (Luke 12:4)
  • You cannot be friends with the world, AND God.  You must choose.  (James 4:4)
Friends Aren't Perfect (nor can they be very good at their job of "Friend" sometimes):
  • They can, and often do, partake in and support evil deeds.  (Esther 5:10, 14)
  • They can have the best intentions of helping, but be completely off the mark and not be helpful at all. (Job 2:11)
  • Some friends don't understand what it means to be a friend, and some simply don't care to do the work of being a good friend.  (Job 6:27)
  • They'll make you cry. (Job 16:20)
  • They'll forget you. (Job 19:14)
  • Intimate friends, those you love most deeply, will sometimes even abhor you. (Job 19:19)
  • Sometimes it might seem like your friends are plotting to do you in somehow.  (Job 24:17)
  • They'll fail to speak rightly of God.  (Job 42:7)
  • They can be completely oblivious. (Psalm 38:11)
  • The ones closest to you will desert you. (Psalm 41:9)
  • Friends who are disciples will leave the church and it'll make any kind of friendship with them difficult to continue. (Psalm 55:12-13)
  • Others will cause your friends to shun you and those friends will be oblivious to the truth! (Psalm 88:18)
  • In hard times, the worst of times, sometimes family and friends can't be trusted.  (Jeremiah 12:6)
  • When you spread the Word, some people you thought were friends will turn you in.  (Luke 21:15-17)
  • They give in to peer pressure.  (John 19:12)
  • Despite how they fail us, we must continue to pray for them. (Job 42:10)
What'll Separate Friends:
  • Sins that seem minor, like gossip.  (Proverbs 16:28)
  • Repeating an offense.  (Proverbs 17:9)
  • Having a good friend suddenly be put in the position of a leader over you.  (Jeremiah 13:21)
Characteristics of a True Friend:
  • They love always.  Yes, ALWAYS.  Even when they don't feel very loving.  (Proverbs 17:17)
  • They don't entice you to serve other God's, whether it be tradition, money, job, friends, substances, etc.  Instead, they hold you accountable.  (Deuteronomy 13:6-11)
  • A Friend is a personal advisor, someone who guides you as well as accompanies you on your journey. (1 Kings 4:5)
  • They're willing to give up any claim to glory and, the really good friends, their life for you. An example is the relationship between King David and Jonathan. (1 Samuel 18:1)
  • They're willing to take risks for you.  (2 Samuel 16)
  • When they earn or win a reward of some kind, whether it's a physical prize or the joy of success, they're happy to share. (1 Samuel 18:1)
  • You speak face to face - when possible.  Not just in the good times, but the bad ones too.  Not texting, voicemails, phone calls, e-mails, Facebook, etc. but physically face to face. (Exodus 33:11)
  • Your hearts are joined (1 Chronicles 12:17)
  • Two friends who will never leave you or forsake you: wisdom and insight. (Proverbs 7:4)
  • Rich people have lots of friends (usually because lots of people are after their money) and poor people have fewer friends than that (but those are the genuine ones).  (Proverbs 14:20, 19:4, 6-7)
  • Those who are pure of heart and have gracious speech tend to draw in Kings as friends. (Proverbs 22:11)
  • The words of friends cut to the heart for the good of the person.  A kiss from the enemy are there to appease the heart to hide the hurt that has or is to come. (Proverbs 27:6)
  • Jesus was friends with sinners and some of those important in society.  There's no reason why you can't do the same.  (Matthew 11:19)
  • Though insulted, a true friend will treat you as a friend.  (Matthew 22:12)
    • The guest in the story lacked something essential and insulted the host by showing up that way.  Yet the hostess still greeted the guest as "Friend" - gently reminding him of what was required.
  • Treat those friends who've betrayed you as Jesus treated Judas Iscariot.  (Matthew 26:50)
  • They can be trusted with a vital message. (Luke 7:6)
  • Friends have common courtesy and kindness in times of need.  Jesus does even better. (Luke 11:5-10)
  • Have a humble heart with your friends. (Luke 14:10)
  • Celebrate with one another! (Luke 15:6)
  • They have a generous heart, giving to friends in need.  People see that faith in God and in eternal riches by how a friend stewards their money.  (Luke 16:9)
  • A heart willing to sacrifice even their life. (John 15:13)
  • They let friends in on their plans and dreams and goals, just as Jesus does with us.  (John 15:15)
  • Share good news with each other!  Peter came to share a dream and visit and knowing that alone had Cornelius inviting all of his friends over to meet Peter and hear whatever it was he had to say.  (Acts 10:24)
  • Visit those in prison.  (Acts 24:23)
  • Not judging a person by their appearance.  Focus on their heart, and have faith in God to work there.  (Hebrews 11:31)
What I've gathered from this is that we can refer to the Bible for guidance in how to be a better friend but the reality is friends will let you down because, let's face it, they're sinners too.  Just like we let others down, they let us down.  The only friend we can truly rely on, is Jesus.  One of my favorite stories of how Jesus is such a good friend is in the story of Lazarus in John 11:5-11.

We're relational beings.  We need friendships, companionship, love and Jesus is the epitome of it all.  We need community, those relationships.  Friends will let us down, but what strikes me each time I think about that is Matthew 18:21-22.  And only Jesus makes it possible - he continues to forgive us, so what right do I have to not forgive my friend?  A friendship grows over time if we're willing to work through it.  The Bible has the basic instructions on how to do that, and those I pulled off the page are only a small portion of it.

This afternoon I had a Bible study with my friend and two others, and I loved that we could set aside our conflict and enjoy each other's company and I was able to give her a genuine, loving hug before heading home afterward.  How does that happen?  By the grace of God and two willing hearts who want our friendship more than we want to be right.  We'd rather have God.