Wednesday, February 29, 2012

One-on-One with the Author

I write a lot about what God's doing in my life, but don’t reveal much about myself, so after a friend posted 15 Truths about herself it influenced me to give my readers a bit of insight about their author.

1. A life lesson you live by:
Live in the world, not for the world.

2. (A) favorite quote(s):
"A woman's heart should be so lost in God a man has to seek Him in order to find her."
"Every day is a miracle."
Just about anything said by Bill Cosby.

3. Dream Car:
A red 1992 F250 short bed, extended cab with a white stripe down the side.  A little rust, a few dents, a lot of horsepower to get where most people can't go and a tailgate to sit on at football games.

4. Something I don't like about myself:
I am very self-reliant.  I will exhaust every option before asking for help, cry alone, talk about my struggles only when I have my emotions under control, face my trials alone and all for the sake of not wanting to be a burden to anyone with the belief that to rely on anyone is to be let down.  It’s exhausting, not very Christ-like, and I’m working on that.

5. Something I have to forgive myself for:
The pain I've caused those I love, and the poor influence I've been on others while claiming to love and follow Jesus.

6. Something I hope to do in my life:
Spend a few months helping in an orphanage in the Middle East or Africa.

7. Something I hope I never have to do:
Eat a living worm.

8. Someone/Something you could definitely live without:
Cigarettes and alcohol.  I’ve been totally sober long enough and relying on God in place of them to know I can and will be completely okay without them. 

9. What do you think of religion or politics?
Not a fan of religion, but I love Jesus and live my life as best as I can to the Bible.  I cringe at politics.  I’m pretty simple – stand behind your colors, respect the pledge of allegiance and support those who put on a uniform to protect the freedom many died to get. 

10. Your best friend got into a car accident an hour after you had a fight.  What do you do?
Drive 90mph to the hospital, hold her hand, sit beside her, pace in her room, and when she asks if I’m still mad I’ll just say, “Mad about what?” because I’ll have forgotten the fight the moment I got the call she was in an accident.

11. Who would you spend the day with (dead or alive) if you could?
Reba McEntire.

12. One childhood fantasy that's still a fantasy:
Galloping on a black stallion across the hills of Montana with no curfew or deadlines and the stars to sleep under for the night.

13. Something you wish you had done in your life:
Gotten my scuba certification while I was stationed in Okinawa, Japan.

14. The reason you believe you’re still alive today:
God’s got a plan for my life and it’s not finished yet.

15. What’s the best thing going for you?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Fitting a Mold

One of my favorite authors is Nora Roberts.  She began writing a series called the “In Death” series back in the 90s under the pseudonym JD Robb, and after reading the first book I was hooked.  Her main character, Lieutenant Eve Dallas, was my kind of gal.  She’d been through the worst case of trauma one can endure, only to turn herself into a homicide detective for the New York Police and Security Department.  She was one tough cookie no one messed with, could handle anything thrown at her, but she was real enough that she had her doubts, her fears and her insecurities that popped up in humorous and sometimes detrimental ways.  She had a sharp tongue, an amusing ignorance for things most women instinctively knew, and I wanted to be just like her. 

It’s no wonder Roberts’ books sold.  Eve was a woman who was perfectly capable on her own, didn’t need a man to take care of her, but nevertheless found the perfect man who appreciated her independence and yet demanded her to be his.  Oh, and he’s also a bazillionaire.  What woman could resist?  Society tends to tell women these days that in order to be functioning members of the world around us we have to be able to balance a career, a husband, children and housecleaning all in the 24 hours we’re provided – not to mention keeping our sanity intact and look drop dead gorgeous doing it.  While I didn't see the character in this novel to do half of those things, she was still superwoman to me, and I figured I could pull both off - rebel the way Dallas had done by not conforming to society's image for women, and yet be the good Christian woman I knew I should be, which is a whole other mold apart from society.  Can I get an 'amen' from the other women trying to do the impossible of fitting into society, fitting the outline of the woman we WANT to be while being the woman the Bible says we should be?

There was a woman in Bible times who was trying to do the same thing.  We read about her in Luke 10 when she's bustling around her house serving Jesus.  Like us, she's exhausted and asking God what’s up!  Why won’t you help?  And he tells her something we don’t expect or particularly like (Luke 10:41-42).  At this point Martha is frustrated that Jesus isn’t really noticing all the stuff she’s doing, and even tells him to get her sister Mary to help out a little.  “Jesus, tell my sister to get off her lazy butt and give me a hand!”  Jesus tells Martha he does notice her, he does see that she's trying to do a lot, but tells her only “one thing is necessary.”  What is it?  I’m sure a lot of women would like to be filled in!  “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (v. 42).  What did Mary choose?  To sit at Jesus feet. 

It doesn’t really make sense.  I wanted to be the tough, ready to fight and stick up for myself and those who couldn’t help themselves, stand on my own two feet Eve Dallas, the Martha who served and DID all these great things for Jesus.  Jesus patiently shakes his head and says that’s not what matters most to him.  Mary picked the good portion – sitting with Jesus.  Spending TIME with Jesus, just enjoying his company.  Those who think they’ve got life figured out, they’ve got all the answers, tend to go along with the world's opinion of what that entails.  The apostle Paul says that the only wisdom of this world is folly with God (1 Corinthians 3:18-19).  What really matters, is what Jesus says matters. 

What does Jesus say matters in the situation of a busy woman trying to serve and do things for Jesus, and the woman who just wants to be with Jesus?  While he does call us to serve (Deuteronomy 10:12; Matthew 20:28; Romans 7:6), he wants first for us to spend time with him.  Get to know him.  Be with him.  Learn from him.  Love him.  Mary sat at Jesus’ feet first.  Martha got to work right away.  Though Jesus is not a physical presence we can sit with at the dinner table and talk about the latest Seahawks squabble, his words are forever preserved in the written Word.  Spending time in scripture is how we can spend time with him, learn from him, be with him, and show our love for him.

If we do as Martha did and serve with the belief that works are what Jesus cares about most, we’ll have laid a foundation of works-based faith, which will not withstand the judgment of God.  A relationship with Christ is the only foundation that can endure the fire that we’ll all be tested by (1 Corinthians 3:11-13).  If I live my life trying to be more like Lieutenant Eve Dallas because she is one tough broad, a character that makes me laugh and inspires me to give my best, and serves unlike any public servant I’ve ever known, I’ve laid the wrong foundation and it will quickly be incinerated - no matter how sturdy it might appear to be.  It's no different than f I were trying to be more like the leaders in my church.  We're to emulate our leaders, but my ultimate leader is Christ.  I’m much better off molding myself to the Savior, the real Son of God who loves me and died for me and was the epitome of a servant.  In becoming more like him I am opening myself up to more persecution and pain – two things JD Robb’s character wouldn’t stand for – I will also have a foundation that will withstand the fire that’ll come with God’s judgment.

It's very tempting to try to be who I think others want me to be.  I'm good at fitting molds - for a short amount of time.  I'm good at putting on a face to be the person I know people want me to be to keep from rocking the boat.  Who I am tends to rock a lot of boats.  But God created me to be who I am for a reason (Psalm 139), and it's my responsibility to be exactly that person.  Not what the world thinks I should be, but who God created me to be.  A woman in love with, following, belonging to, Jesus.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Passing the Puck

Lately I've felt like a hockey puck, sliding across the freezing ice and being passed between a team of players who are learning how to handle me.  Some players are new to the game and have never strapped on a pair of skates much less know how to handle a stick and puck, and others have the experience but after awhile they get bored or need to teach others who aren't as familiar with the techniques of skating, dodging other players and handling a puck at the same time.  Oh, and the ice is covered in various obstacles that could trip a player up.  It's the story of a disciple unable to walk on her own and she's being encouraged and guided by her family.

I used to think that I needed one person to love me in order to be complete.  I'd be just fine as long as I had one person who I knew would never leave me and never let me go but would love me unconditionally.  Newsflash, I have him and his name is Jesus.  Is it difficult that Christ isn't a tangible person who can hug me and hold my hand and touch my face and look into my eyes?  Absolutely.  Is it enough that he's made the promise that the day will come when he does all of those things for me and more (Psalm 18:16; Isaiah 41:13; Psalm 138:6; Revelation 7:17)?  It is enough.  It's more than enough.  

It's enough because of the Promise, and it's enough because he does give me exactly what I need while I'm here on this earth.  Everyone is unique and we're all different members of one body, each with specific gifts to offer (Romans 12:4-6).  I'm understanding that it's not one particular person who can help me through the overwhelming struggles I'm facing, but many who reveal to me the character of Christ who I am to love first and most (Matthew 22:36-38).  I'm not to lean on one who loves me best, but all who love me the best they know how so I can better understand how God loves.  To see it in writing is to read 1 Corinthians 13:4-13, but to see it displayed is to have faith in my brothers and sisters in Christ who reveal what they can to the best of their ability while living with a sinful nature.  Do I rely on my brothers and sisters completely?  Of course not.  We're all sinful and we need to have grace on each there when we screw up (Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:13).  I can have faith that because they love God they'll show me bits and pieces of God's character.  God IS love (1 John 4:10) and he shows his many ways of loving through those who love him (1 John 4:16).  

So instead of being resentful that no one wants to "stick with me" and bitter because "no one loves me enough to REALLY get to know me," I can be grateful God's blessed me with so many people who want  to love the me they do know.  I can be grateful to God because he picked ME to be a part of his family (Luke 10:22; 1 John 3:1) and to have a hope greater than what this world has to offer - a hope I cling to when this world really, really sucks.  I can be rejoice in the fact that I get to discover the many ways disciples love one another and I get to learn that it is and always goes back to Jesus and the love he had for us that we're called to imitate (John 13:34).

I may be a hockey puck passed between players, but I can learn techniques from each player and learn to have grace on those who drop me or accidentally pass me to the middle of the ice stead of to another player.  And what's the best thing a hockey puck can do when it's being passed between players and handled by each stick?  Nothing.  Be still and trust that it'll be taken care of and won't fall through the ice or get broken or discarded.  Be still, go with it, and learn.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

An Act of Repentance

In 1517 theologian Martin Luther penned the 95 Thesis, which he nailed on the door of the Catholic church.  The first of his 95 thesis says, "When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent," he called for the entire life of believes to be one of repentance."  Not just the moment leading up to baptism, not just the baptism itself, but a Christian's entire life.  Every day is a day to repent, because we cannot go a single day without living in sin.

Not an easy thing to hear.  Repentance, as defined by the Bible, comes from the Old Testament Hebrew word "metanoia," which means a "change of mind" to correct a wrong.  It includes an admission of guilt, a resolve not to repeat the offense, and an attempt to make restitution for the wrong (Acts 3:19).  In simpler American terms, it means to do a 180.  You're walking in sin, walking toward sin, you do a 180 and start walking toward Jesus away from the sin.

When I was baptized I didn't have the thought that I'd never sin again.  However, I did believe that when I did fall into sin, it wouldn't be as bad as the sin I'd gotten myself into before I was a disciple.  Recently I found that to simply not be true, and what a painful revelation it has been.

We are going to sin, there's no avoiding it (Romans 7:21-25).  A friend recently told me, "We love how we know how to love, and we hurt how we know how to hurt."  I've never experienced the truth of this more than in the past couple of weeks.  My experience with hurt is that it's taken my innocence, sense of safety and self-worth, and left scars too deep to truly heal, or even to recover to their original potential.  That's how I've been hurt, and that is how I know how to hurt.

I recently hurt the person closest to me in this way, and it grieves me to say because this person is someone I would willingly lay my life down for.  This person is one I would never intentionally offend much less cause pain, and this person is the one God knew would be the only one to get my attention.  This individuals words weren't enough, I had to hurt this person with my actions - the very thing that was trying to be brought to my attention.  Sometimes God allows us to go through the darkest of places, do the things we swear we'll never do, and fall so far into the pit of despair because he wants so badly for us to see what it is we're doing to ourselves and our relationship with Him.  He does it to discipline us (Hebrews 12:5-7, 11) and because we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-9).

In the past couple of weeks I've learned that the suffering we endure and cause others is painful (1 Peter 1:6), but it's also purposeful (Romans 8:28-29).  Everything we endure, even when it's done by our own hand, God will have a purpose for it.  It tests us (James 1:2) and proves our character or integrity.  This was a difficult thing for me to swallow because my sin truly reveals where I was with God and how far I'd fallen.  He allowed me to step into that sin because had I continued living in it without the current dire consequences, I'd be far worse off in the future.  Suffering also takes time (Romans 5:3-4), but in that time, however long it is, suffering can and will purify us (Philippians 3:12-14).  And believe it or not, suffering is predetermined and inevitable.  You cannot avoid it (1 Thessalonians 3:3;  Peter 4:19).

In my sin, I took the steps to confess to God and other sisters in the church what I'd done (James 5:16), and then faced the difficult part.  I was called to repent.  Not once, but dozens of times (2 Timothy 2:25; Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9; John 8:11; 2 Corinthians 7:9-10; Luke 13:3, 5).  Here's the thing about repentance; you can't repent unless you understand what it is you've done to God.  It's called godly sorrow; being grieved by what you've done against God and desiring to turn from your sin to get right with God, whatever the cost.  Worldly sorrow is the grief one feels over the consequences of their sin with little to no regard over how it affects their relationship with God.  Esau experienced worldly sorrow (Hebrews 12:17) by wanting the good consequences of repentance but not being truly sorry for his sins.

My sin was idolatry, and the Bible is very clear about what repentance looks like for one who commits that sin (Exodus 32; Romans 1:21-32; Isaiah 57; Jonah 2:8; 1 John 5:21).  Whatever the idol was is to be destroyed and/or cut off.  Flee idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14).  The consequences of my sin against the person I love most dearly is more than having caused pain to us both, but the repenting of my sin means to cut off the relationship and return to God.  A very difficult task considering we both saw the relationship as a blessing from God in the first place.  Our sin tainted that gift, just as the Jews in Exodus 32 took the plunder God had blessed them with from the Egyptians and turned it into a golden calf to be worshipped, instead of worshipping the God who'd given it to them.

Here's the scary part, or the motivating part depending on your perspective.  Those who don't repent go to hell (Ezekiel 18:30-32; Luke 16:30-31; Revelation 2:5, 16, 21-22).  Those who do repent will be forgiven (1 John 1:9) and those who call out to God with repentance will not be ashamed to lift their face to him, and they'll be comforted (Job 11:13-15; Psalm 34:18-19; 147:3; Acts 26:18).  This life is a short span of time when compared to eternity.  I'd rather spend a lifetime in repentance being right with God and an eternity in heaven with Him AND my friend, than spend a lifetime of guilt with my friend in conflict with God and an eternity in hell.  The justification may rise, "it's just ONE act of defiance, what's the big deal?"  A hardened heart is more difficult to penetrate.  Being stiff-necked and stubborn is not an admirable quality when it comes to sin, and it only hardens the heart against God's love and wisdom.  We have the choice.

I've lived with a hard heart long enough.  I'm done.  I want Jesus.