Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 35 (Burnt Offering)

We are up in Bellingham with my niece. Her family has a cabin on Lummi Bay. She invited us up for a few days of card games, exploring, and playing on the beach (or in the muck). I escaped first thing this morning for my hour with God, to hear His voice. I drove down to the ferry dock and sat by the water.

This is my last week of my 40 Day Journey and I had all kinds of ideas for this week. This is the week before we celebrate the greatest moment in all of history, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Yet God reminded me again, He wants my heart, not my plans.

It didn't take me long to admit to God what was on my heart today. I recently heard from someone that I had known years ago. Hearing from this person brought up an old wound I had long forgotten. It started to occupy my thoughts. It wasn't earth shaking, but it was a resurrected hurt that needed my attention. I knew I had to work through this to be able to clearly hear God. Or maybe I needed to clearly hear God to work through this?

I asked what He wanted to say to my heart through this memory. I’m not sure the process that happened to get me to Genesis 8:20-21, but that is where I landed.

“Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the LORD smelled the soothing aroma…”

I have a Thompson Chain Reference Bible. One of the main features is the “links” in the column to other verses that are related to the one you are reading. I love the connections it makes, especially between the testaments. When I looked for the “link” to this soothing aroma it took me to Ephesians 5:1-2.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”

We no longer need sacrifices or burnt offerings, because of Christ's complete work on the cross. He gave His perfect life as the only sacrifice necessary for us to be right with God. The next "link" in my Bible took me to 2 Corinthians 2:15, which says we are a fragrance of Christ to God.

(I so often feel like Billy from the Family Circus comic, going all over the map to get to his destination...I'm getting to the point!)

In Genesis 8, Noah's first thought when getting off the boat was to worship God with a burnt offering. It was not commanded by God, it was from a pure and thankful heart. And it was a soothing aroma to God! Then we see in the New Testament that Christ was the perfect and final sacrifice, that we may have forgiveness of our sins and access to God. And His offering was a fragrant aroma.

Today we are the fragrance of Christ to God. Ephesians 5 says we are to be imitators of God. What can we imitate? He forgave us of all of our sins, now we are able to forgive others.

So now what do I do with this offense from years past? Ignoring it does not make it go away (in case you are ever inclined to try.,.). God reminded me of the blog I posted on Day 7, Ashes and Oaks. In it God showed me why He makes beauty from ashes. What He showed me today is that I have an offering that is waiting to be consumed by fire, waiting to be made into ashes. An offense waiting to be forgiven. This hurt can not be made beautiful until it is offered to God with a heart of gratitude.

So this morning, I give this hurt...this offense to you Lord. I choose to forgive. Please take it from me as an offering, fully consumed by fire...made into ashes. Take it Lord, from a heart of praise and thanksgiving for who You are. May You take this offering, made to ashes, to make something beautiful for your glory. And may it be a soothing aroma to You. Amen

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 34 (El Olam)

Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.  Psalm 90:2

El Olam - The Everlasting God. We find this name first in Genesis 21. Isaac is finally born and now Abraham is looking forward to possessing the land God has promised. Some pretty crazy things have happened in the last few chapters of Genesis since God revealed Himself as El Shaddai - the Lord Almighty in chapter 17. It looks like now though, things are starting to look up.

Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech. Abraham would not deal harshly with Abimelech and Abimelech would give back Abraham's well.Then verse 33 says, "And Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God."

Things are good. Then in the very next chapter, Abraham is tested by God. He is to take his son, his only son Isaac, the son that will bring the many descendants, and offer him as a burnt offering. The very next verse says Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey and went to go just as the Lord said to do.

There is not one mention of Abraham talking back to God, arguing, whining, questioning. Abraham has made some pretty poor choices, he is not perfect. So why this time, when he is asked to sacrifice his son, does he submit so willingly?

I think it is because God just revealed to him that He is El Olam, the Everlasting God. He does not change. He was and is and is to come. If this is true, which it is, then when Abraham is to sacrifice his son, he can trust that God will act on his behalf.

In Genesis 22:8, when Isaac asked where the lamb was for the burnt offering, Abraham said "God will provide for Himself the lamb." Hebrews 11:19 says that Abraham believed God could bring someone back from the dead. Abraham knew that no matter what happened on that mountain, the Everlasting God would not fail him. God had made a promise and was going to keep it.

As Abraham trusted God as El Olam - The Everlasting God, he was able to walk by faith through probably one of the most difficult days of his life. As he walked by faith, God revealed more of His character to Abraham.  This is when God showed Himself as Jehovah Jireh, our Provider. (God provided the ram for the sacrifice in place of Isaac).

I believe God is asking us to walk by faith in the knowledge of who He is. As we walk by faith, He unveils more of His character and we are strengthened for this journey we travel. Step by step.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the name of the Lord is Everlasting, you are safe.

Rich Mullins - Step by Step

The 40 Day Journey - Day 33 (El Shaddai)

Genesis 17:1
Now when Abram was 99 years old, the LORD appeared to him and said to him, "I am God Almighty walk before Me, and be blameless.

Psalm 91:1
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

Sleep won over blogging last night. 32+ days of late nights has finally taken its toll! 8 hours of peaceful sleep sure was wonderful! Thankful for God's grace everyday. This 40 day journey is winding down and I have started reflecting on it a little bit. I keep pushing those thoughts aside as I don't want to miss what God has TODAY for me. It is so easy to worry about the future and look at regrets of yesterday, yet that is not God's plan for us.

Matthew 6:33-34 says,"But seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

And Philippians 3:13b-14, "...but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

That Philippians verse used to confuse me. The part about forgetting what lies behind especially. Aren't we supposed to remember what God has done? Earlier in Philippians Paul lists some of his resume. In verse 6 he lists "persecutor of the church". As you know Paul was an enemy of the church, his treatment would have been front page news today. It was heartbreaking. Then God revealed Himself to Paul and he did a 180, becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

When Paul says he will "press on" toward his new goal, that is the same word in Greek as "persecutor" he used in verse 6. What Paul is saying is he used to be a pursuer of the church (to destroy) and now he is a pursuer of Jesus (to bring life). He is choosing to forget that old life, that old man, because he has been made new. He came to the end of his old self. God Almighty stepped in and now he can look forward to God's purpose for him.

Let me bring this back around.  El Shaddai. The Lord Almighty. It has been 24 years since God told Abram to leave his home and God had said He would make him a great nation. And life hasn't gone exactly the way he thought. There is still no son and he is now 99 years old. It is too late. They tried in their humanness to make this plan work through Hagar and that was a disaster. Abram was at the end of himself. Finally.

When we are at the end ourselves, when we admit we cannot do this life in our own strength, God steps in as El Shaddai, God Almighty: God All Sufficient and God All Powerful. Is there a care from a yesterday that is consuming you? Give it to God Almighty, forgetting your old self. Remember what the Almighty has done (that is the remembering we are to do). Are you worried about tomorrow? He is already there. What is He asking of you, of me, today? Psalm 91 says to abide in the shadow of the Almighty, that sounds pretty wonderful to me.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the name of the Lord is Almighty, you are safe.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 32 (Jehovah Shalom)

I've been thinking of my college years lately. So much silliness and laughter and late nights and coffee! 

We were starry eyed and confident. We were ready to take on the world, whether they were ready for us or not.

And now, life is filled with sorrow and tears and late nights of prayer and morning coffee. Another friend just told me of a miscarriage tonight and we are moments away from another friend leaving us to be present with the Lord. How we are desperate for peace. Good thing today we have Jehovah Shalom, The Lord is Peace.

This name is given to us in Judges 6:24.  Chapter 6 starts out with, "Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord gave them into the hands of Midian seven years." The Bible says the Midianites were like locusts and they came into the land to devastate it.

Verse 6 says Israel was brought very low because of Midian. They were struggling, trying to find food, trying to stay alive. Enter Gideon. The text tells us that an angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak (there is that tree again!). The angel appears to Gideon and says, "The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior." Gideon is like, what? Don't you know God has abandoned us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about?

*Side note: Today in Moms in Prayer, our attribute of God was God is the miracle worker. Psalm 77:11 says, "I will remember the deeds of the Lord, yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago." In contrast to Judges 2:10, after Joshua died, the new generation that rose up, did not know the Lord, "nor yet the work which He had done for Israel." This is yet another reminder to tell this generation of the work that God has done in our lives and in theirs!

So back to Gideon, this interaction continues with the angel of the Lord (Jesus). The angel tells Gideon to deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Gideon wants a sign , it is given. Then in verse 23, the Lord said to him, "Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die." And this is where we see Gideon building the altar to the Lord and naming it Jehovah Shalom.

I was trying to think about how Gideon would be feeling: scared, hungry, abandoned. An angel of the Lord appeared and burnt up his offering after being told He would deliver Israel as a valiant warrior. No wonder he needed peace!

For my hour with God today, I sat on my porch soaking in the sunshine. Bible in my lap and a cup of coffee in my hand. It was really peaceful. Is this the peace You are talking about Lord? 

His answer was "no". God gave Gideon peace, not on a sunny day and not with a cup of coffee for sure. God revealed Himself as Peace in the midst of a very "low" time. And not only were circumstances difficult, but Gideon was going to have to go fight the bad guys next. This does not resemble my moment on the porch.

In John 14:27 Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful."

His peace isn't like the calm day I had today (not as the world gives, not based on circumstances). The angel of the Lord in Judges 6 and Jesus in John 14 offer peace and command us not to be fearful. So many scriptures that say "Do not fear" are followed by God acting on that person's behalf. We need not fear, but allow God to act on our behalf. In war, in grief, in life, in college, in our every moment. The Lord is peace. The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior. 

The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the name of the Lord is Peace, you are safe. And it is well.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 31 (El Roi)

I was thinking about the verse of this week:

The name of the LORD is a strong tower, the righteous runs into is and is safe. Proverbs 18:10

I love that the subject of this verse (righteous) is singular. It is not a blanket statement for all believers.  It is specific. Each one of us can run into the name of the Lord and be safe.  These names of God are very personal to each of us.

Today's name is El Roi: You are the God Who Sees. This comes from Genesis 16.  When Hagar runs to the desert after conceiving a son with Abram.  Let's back up.

God has promised Abram that he will be a great nation, he will have as many descendants as there are stars. God made a covenant with Abram. His descendants would be given the Promised Land. Grand story, except Abram has no children, and he is old. Fast forward 10 years and his wife Sarai has just about had it, when would they have a child? She will fix this.

You know the story, Sarai figures if she can't have a baby her servant Hagar will do.  She'll give her to Abram as another wife, she'll conceive and then they can move on with their lives with this child. Well, her plan worked...or at least what she had planned happened.

I have always felt bad for Hagar. She was wronged, this was not exactly the love story she had desired. She understandable is mad at Sarai. So then Sarai treated her harshly. Hagar had to run away, head back home. This is only part of the story though I think. I looked a little closer and asked God what this all meant.

While Hagar is in the desert, an angel of the Lord found her.  In Genesis 16:8 he says, "Hagar, Sarai's maid, where have you come from and where are you going?" He knows exactly where she had been and where she was going. He wanted her to see it for herself. I wonder if He wanted her to see that she was leaving the God of Abram to return to homeland of Egypt full of idols. He also addresses her as Sarai's maid. Surely she had other identities, but this is important.

Hagar had run away. But maybe not just out of grief and fear. Maybe also out of pride  She didn't think she needed to submit any longer to someone so horrible as Sarai. The angel gives her instructions, which reveal her heart. He says, "Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority". What I believe the angel was saying was, go back to where you belong. She was under the authority of Sarai. And she needed to humble herself and return.

Either way or both ways. She was alone in the wilderness, without hope, without a future, without family. And then the angel of the Lord found her. He saw her. The angel then gives her a promise about her future. After this encounter Hagar calls the name of the Lord, who spoke to her, "You are a God who sees", El Roi.

When Daniel was 6 days old we were sent to the emergency room from a routine well baby check up. We were told he had meningitis. It would take 3 days to find out if it was viral or bacterial. If he would live or possibly die. I didn't sleep much those three days. Pastor Jim came to the hospital and read Psalm 121 to us. One line in particular stood out, from verse 3, "...He who keeps you will not slumber." I remember being so tired that I couldn't keep my eyes open. While I slept in that fold out chair next to Daniel with all kinds of wires attached, God would not sleep. God would see him and care for him. I will always remember that comfort and hope I had knowing God was watching over him.

Are you running away? From a circumstance, a struggle. Maybe you are literally running away, you are avoiding an uncomfortable situation. God sees, you are important. He wants you to head in the right direction. Do you need comfort? He sees. Do you need peace? He sees. Do you need strength? He sees. Do you need forgiveness? He sees. Notice the theme here? Our God is a loving Father. If He sees, then we know He will respond.  Trust and obey.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the name of the Lord is The God Who Sees, you are safe.

Song: "From the Day" by I am They

The 40 Day Journey - Day 30 (Jehovah Nissi)

***Another disclaimer - you will need your thinking caps today! I'm a little all over the place with this post. It is not even close to being exhaustive, just a glimpse of a cool truth God showed me today.

Jehovah Nissi - The Lord is my Banner, has always intrigued me. Mostly because I don't understand it and because I like pretty things, and banners are pretty right? I figured I'd go for it and hope God would speak. I knew this hour would be spent listening to God through His Word. I have a paper of scribbled notes that I will try to unravel here.

Exodus 17:15 says, "And Moses built an altar, and named it The LORD is My Banner,"

I like to look up words in their original language to see if that helps me understand a verse better. I looked up banner and in Hebrew it is the word "nec". This means: a thing lifted up, a token to be seen far off; a banner set up high in the mountains in case of an invasion, showing the people where to assemble.

I also try to look at the context of a passage. So, I backed up a few chapters to see what was happening with Moses. He had the less than pleasant job of trying to convince Pharaoh to let all of his free slave labor go. Then he lead over a million people through the Red Sea. He also had to deal with the grumblings of these hungry and thirsty Israelites.

In each of these instances, Moses used the staff of God. The Lord told Aaron and Moses to throw down the staff in front of Pharaoh and it would become a serpent. The Lord told Moses to lift up his staff and stretch out his hand over the sea and divide it so the Israelites could pass through. And in Exodus 17:5-6 Moses is to take his staff and strike the rock so water would come out of it.

In addition to looking at the original language and the context, I like to look up other verses with the same word I am studying. So I looked up where the word "nec" is  used. Almost all of them are in battles. Instead of banner, "standard" or "signal" or "pole" were used for "nec".

I started looking ahead to passages after Exodus and found something interesting in Numbers 21. The Israelites were grumbling once again. So God sent serpents that bit the people and many died. They of course apologized again. God had Moses fashion a bronze serpent and attach it to the top of his standard. When the people were bit, if they looked up to the standard (nec) they would live.

I then found Isaiah 11:10 that speaks of the root of Jesse (Jesus)..."who will stand as a signal (nec) for the peoples; and His resting place will be glorious".

Are you seeing the connection yet? Here is one more.

Back to the Exodus 17 passage where God is named Jehovah Nissi, Amalek came and fought against Israel. Moses had Joshua and some men go fight in the battle.  Moses then went up to the top of the hill with the staff (not nec to my surprise, but matteh) of God in his hand. Basically, when Moses' hands, holding the staff, were lifted they prevailed. If Moses put his hands down Amalek prevailed. Aaron and Hur helped keep Moses' arms raised so that Joshua and his men overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.

To keep this short and sweet, I think 'The Lord is my Banner' is not referring to some fabric flying in the wind as I imagined. I believe this Banner is a pole of some sort that was used as a signal for battle.

The staff Moses used with Pharaoh and the Israelites, was "matteh". The first time "nec" is used is when God's name, Jehovah Nissi is revealed. And this was right after this battle is won. And then it is used about 20 times after that to point to Jesus all in the Old Testament!

Moses had been using his staff (his matteh) to gain victory against Pharaoh, to gain victory in escaping Egypt, for victory over the thirst of the Israelites. But after that battle against an evil man, Moses is acknowledging that the battle is the Lords, that He is victorious, He is the banner (nec). No man made stick can save, only God.

And this all leads to Jesus, lifted up on that cross, showing us where to assemble to defeat our greatest enemy, sin. This is no man made fabric flowing in the wind, no this is God made flesh. This is Jesus. The One that is victorious over death (remember the staff with the serpent?). The Lord is My Banner. When we look to Jesus, we know the battle is won, He is victorious.

Now death, where is your sting? Our resurrected King has rendered you defeated. Forever, He is glorified. Forever, He is lifted high. (From Forever by Kari Jobe.)

The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the name of the Lord is My Banner, you are safe.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 29 (Jehovah Jireh)

I spent my hour in my favorite reading spot again.  It is finally spring and now it rains! One of these days I will jump in the puddles with God, but not today.

I sat down with my Bible and asked God what He had for today. Again, I felt as if He was asking me what was on my mind. I have quite a few friends going through some pretty big challenges right now. Another cancer diagnosis. A heart surgery. An uncertain future. Life can be overwhelming. As you get older it seems like the stakes get higher.

When you are little and you scrape your knee, a kiss from mom fixes everything. However, now as adults...the smurf band-aid doesn't quite take the pain away. So how can we receive comfort or hope or clarity?

Proverbs 18:10 came to mind, "The name of the LORD is a strong tower, the righteous runs into it and is safe." It doesn't say, the Lord is a strong tower, but the name of the Lord is a strong tower.

So this week, I will explore the names of God. Names don't quite mean as much today as they did in biblical times. A name expressed the character of a person. Just by knowing someones name, you would know about who they were. God has many names, each one revealing more of His character.

As we find out more of His character, who God is...we will find refuge. When the storms of this life come, we can run to this Strong Tower and be safe.

The first name I wanted to explore was Jehovah Jireh, The Lord Will Provide.

God told Abraham to go to the land of Moriah and offer Isaac as a burnt offering. When Isaac asked where the offering was, his dad replied, "God will provide." (Genesis 22:8)

This is truly a remarkable story and God did indeed provide. As Abraham lifted the knife to slay his son, an angel of the Lord called to him - in the nick of time. Isaac's life was spared. Abraham was told not to do anything to his son.

Verse 13 says, "Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold behind him a ram...", here was the sacrifice. God provided. The verse goes on to say, "...Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son."

This verse is packed with significance. In light of the name of God, Jehovah Jireh, something caught my eye. (no pun intended...wait for it)

Did you notice Abraham "raised his eyes and looked" and that is when he saw God's provision? I looked back at Abraham's journey so far and found these two verses:

The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, "now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever." Genesis 13:14

And when he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth... Genesis 18:2

These men (angels) brought the good news that by next year, Sarah would have a son. The son that Abraham had desired, the one God had promised.

Did you see it? All these times, when Abraham lifted his eyes, he saw God's provision. He lifted his eyes and saw the land promised to him and his descendants. Sitting at his tent, he lifted his eyes and welcomed messengers of God. And as he was still gazing in his son's eyes, the son he was about to sacrifice, he raised his eyes and saw God's provision of a ram.

God not only showed me today that He will provide. But that as I raise my eyes, I will see His provision. Where is your gaze? Are you looking at your circumstances? Are you looking at your struggles? Will you instead, look up and see the Lord.  He will provide.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the name of the Lord is Provider, you are safe.

Song: Christ is Risen (we can look up, because our God has risen!)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 28 (Legacy)

**I am getting good at these disclaimers...I was too tired to finish putting into words what last night meant, so I put off posting this until today, the one year anniversary of my mom's home going. I still feel like this blog is a faded version of a truer version, but that is what this life is anyway, so here is another piece of my heart.

Today was a good day. Actually the day was very average, less than noteworthy.  Tonight however the heaven's sang, or maybe that was my heart.  Julia chose to be baptized.

Nothing prepares you for parenting...no amount of babysitting or research.  Children can completely break your heart and can completely inflate it beyond what you knew possible. As believers, our greatest hope and prayer is that our children would follow Jesus.  That they would love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Julia made that declaration today.

Thank you Pastor David!
Baptism is a picture of our new life in Christ.  Our old self is buried and now we have a new life. In the New Testament, we see men and women who believed and then were baptized.  We see Jesus being baptized, the One we follow. Tonight Pastor Jim shared about Paul's conversion. He believed and was baptized. He chose to be identified with a new group, a new people, the very ones he had been persecuting.

At least we are all looking forward!
It made me think of Julia and her decision. She is now identified with a new people, God's people. She has a forever family, literally.

I am feeling a heightened sense of nostalgia, as tonight is the one year anniversary of the last time I saw my mom. Tomorrow, March 22, will be one year since she left this temporary home for her eternal one.

I wrote a blog about the night before her death. In it I share a verse she had given to me on a 3x5 card when the kids were very young.  It was Isaiah 40:11

 He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; 
and carry them in His bosom; and gently lead those that are with young.

I was able to share that verse back with her the night before she died. I told her she was being carried by the Lord. Early the next morning, she was in the arms of Jesus, being ushered into God's.
My love for spaghetti began early!

Julia was asked to share a favorite verse tonight at her baptism. She chose Isaiah 46:4

I will be your God throughout your lifetime - until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.

It felt like the perfect ending to a fairy tale, but this was real. My mom's encouragement (or blessing) to me when Julia was a baby, spoke the truth that God would carry each of us, all of our days.  God led my mom when I was young. And He was her God throughout her lifetime, until her hair was white with age.

On the one year anniversary of when I told my mom she was in Jesus' arms, our firstborn stood up in front of the church and declared her trust in the same God. My mom gave the beginning of the story, from our early years God leads us.  And Julia gave the ending, until our hair is white with age, He will carry us and be our God. My mom left a legacy of faith that is being passed down for generations.

Coffee with Mama
These last two days I have blogged about how different God's plan looks for our lives than what we imagined. His plan goes through some difficult times we would not choose. His plan sends us, on what seems like, frustrating detours - when in fact He is protecting us. And today I learned that God's plan spans time. Our time on this earth is limited, but not our legacy. Our story is part of a grander, more beautiful love story. God's Story.

Flowers for the anniversary
Is it a coincidence that Julia was baptized on the eve of the anniversary of my mom's death? No.  Do I understand all that this means? No. I know God carried my mom all of her days. I know she spoke of His faithfulness all those years. I know my mom and my daughter both have new lives today. I know my mom left a legacy of trust in God, that will span the generations.

I want to leave that same legacy, not for my sake, but for the generations to come.  That they may know God and glorify Him. Oh, that I could be part of a grander story that points to Jesus!

My mom would be so proud of Julia and the amazing young woman she has become.  And they would have gone to Starbucks to celebrate!

Song: Not for a Moment, Meredith Andrews

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 27 (Detours and Delays)

**I went to the Northwest Ministry Conference in Redmond yesterday. I tried to blog when I got home, but knew it would be a garbled mess.  Here is an attempt at making that mess, make sense, the day after!

Today I went to the Northwest Ministry Conference in Redmond. The 2.5 hour commute home makes me forever grateful that I live a mile from my work.  I will be fine if I never have to do that again! Anyway, I asked God if we could have our time in the car since it was going to be a super long day.

I have a new app called Waze. It is like an interactive GPS. It gives you directions to your destination, but other users post all kinds of things so you have live updates.

I was cruising along pretty well for a Friday morning.  And then traffic stopped, emergency sirens were coming up behind me.  Waze did a little beep and recalculated my route for me. To make a super boring and very long commute story short, my route was recalculated.  I would have been totally lost on these roads I've never seen or heard of before.  I just followed directions.  I avoided the freeway-turned-parking lot and the accident ahead.

You see where this is going.  Yesterday I posted a picture of our plan for our lives, a straight smooth line.  And then God's plan.  Hills, valleys, struggles, obstacles, distance, etc.  He gives us strength to persevere through all of it.

What I didn't notice in that picture though, were the pitfalls that God helps us avoid.  By redirecting our paths from our own plans and destination, He in fact is protecting us. While we may see it as one more frustrating detour, He sees it as part of His plan for our good.

God confirmed this two more times for me.  My last workshop of the day was about Family Ministries.  At the end of the class the speaker apologized that the conference planners had made a mistake.  This workshop in fact was scheduled for a different time and place. I had "accidentally" attended this class.  Yet I knew I was there on purpose.

The other was on the way home on 167, Waze helped me avoid several traffic headaches.  All of this to say, we can trust God.  When it seems like we are either completely off track or at a stand still, He will lead, or sit with us while we wait. Our job is to abide, stay closely connected and listen for directions.

The reason I mentioned the workshop above is because it was extremely valuable. I hope to write a blog about it and I don't want to forget.  It was definitely a detour off the course I had planned, and I am so grateful.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 26 (Why Confess?)

Yesterday God showed me my need to confess my sins.  It's not like I never ask God to forgive me, I often will shoot up a quick, "Oh forgive me Lord" when I blow it.  At Moms in Prayer today, we had a silent time of confession (which I filled!). But to spend time and go through my day to find unconfessed sin is humbling and difficult.

I've been thinking about it most of the day.  I wondered, why do we need to confess our sins.  Didn't Jesus die once and for all...for all of our sins? As a believer, I am covered by His robe of righteousness. When God looks at me, He sees Jesus. (This is a great mystery!)  So why confess?  This is what I asked God today.

There are two passages that are getting me closer to understanding this concept.  The first is Hebrews 12:1:
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us,
let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us,
 and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

I noticed two things in this verse.  First, it is necessary to lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us (hey, this reminds me of yesterday's blog!). A marathon runner does not weigh himself down with anything unnecessary. He stepped up to the starting blocks and got rid of his jacket, cell phone, keys, water bottle, and anything extra.  This is a call to rid ourselves of hindrances and sin. Proof that we need to confess and ask for forgiveness, often.

The second thing I noticed is more in answer to my "why" of confession.  Why does the runner rid himself of these things? To run with endurance the race set before him.  God has a course He has marked out for each of us.

Julia found this picture on the Internet.  It shows "Your Plan" for your life, a straight easy path. Then it shows "God's Plan" for this life.  As you notice, it is pretty difficult, valleys, danger, ups, downs, struggle. We can endure this course set before us because God will strengthen, equip, and lead us.  How much easier though without the weight of sin! When we confess our sins we are able to endure God's plan for our lives.

The other passage is Acts 3:19:
Repent, therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away,
in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;

Ahhh, did you notice the purpose of repentance in that verse?  That times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord. That sounds pretty great. As we confess our sins, we are removing the weeds from our lives.  We are preparing the ground to be watered by the Living Water.  Can you just picture a freshly weeded garden, dirt tilled, plants thriving, a flower blooming, sun shining. And as we are refreshed, we will be ready for the planting of the Lord and we will bear fruit.

So why confess?  God's Word says, we rid ourselves of entanglements, freeing our lives up to live God's plan fully.  And as we repent, we will be refreshed. As we are refreshed by the Lord we are able to live out God's plan. Death to life. There it is. Bound and then set free. Confession brings life and freedom, how can it be?

Lauren Daigle - How Can It Be?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 25 (Confession)

I took my dad to an appointment today. About 30 minutes before picking him up I thought I better vacuum out the car.  Life with kids, carpooling, playground gravel, snacking, all evidence of a good portion of our days spent in the car. I wanted the car nice for my dad. Right then I knew how I'd spend my hour today.

It was a quick connection for me this time.  I wanted the car clean for my dad, not because he expected it or asked for it, but because I love him.  This led to the realization of my desire to be clean before my Heavenly Father.  1 John 1:9 quickly came to mind, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

I looked up some verses on confession and forgiveness and realized I was getting distracted from the task at hand.  Confess.  I tried to focus, but was having a hard time.  I finally found some piano worship music and then did a little bit of yoga breathing my friend Michelle taught me.  I was finally relaxed and focused.

I figured I would just start confessing any sin that came to mind.  But I stopped after a few and decided to go back to when I woke up and start from there, let's just do this right.

When I was cleaning the car I did a quick clean up and vacuum, but then I started looking under the seats (found a spoon that is not ours with food that has been dried on for a very long time!).  It is quite amazing what can be found when you start searching.

And so I searched deeper for any sin that needed to be confessed.  And that is how my time went, from confessing my laziness, getting up late, being impatient with the kids, speeding, assuming something unkind about another mom...I'm just going to stop.  You don't need to know all of my sins.

I remembered that after my dad got in the car this morning, the windows fogged up a bit. I quickly noticed Julia's foot prints on the window, directly in front of my dad (if you know Julia this makes perfect sense!). More was revealed that needed to be cleaned.

I asked God what sin was "hiding" that maybe I didn't see at first.  I realized that some of my sins are just little shoots off of a bigger vine.  Thinking poorly of that other mom was sin, yes.  But why was I quick to judge?  Pride.  I thought I was better than her.  Ouch.  I hate pride..is that sin?? So I spent some more time asking God to gently reveal any other root sins.   Fortunately my time ran out before I was completely leveled.  Or unfortunately.

Bindweed is pretty, but an awful weed! 
I think that is how I have approached confessing my sins.  Just pluck out those small weeds on the surface. In the mean time these long vines take deep root. Pretty soon you are not sure if they are flowers or weeds.  It takes much more to recognize them for what they are and to dig them out.  One way to prevent weeds from growing deep roots is to pull them quickly before they become a bigger problem.  The way to deal with these sins, is to confess them.  He is faithful and righteous and will cleanse us from all of our sin.

It is costly to allow these weeds to stay around too long. So, what do you think...time for some weeding?

Second Chance Rend Collective

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 24 (Decision Making)

"And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' 
when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left."  Isaiah 30:21

I wondered if this day would come.  No big revealing.  No struggle.  No questions.  I sat down with God this afternoon and I thought, "I'll just rest with Him today".  I was super tempted to open my Bible at "random" and let my finger fall on a verse.

Please tell me you've done this.  More times than I can count, mostly in my teen years, when I needed encouragement or an answer to a life question, I would find my Bible.  I would let it fall open, then close my eyes, and let fate find a verse.  I will admit if it fell on one that didn't work for me, I'd take my do-over.  Occasionally this worked.  I ended up being encouraged.  Most the time it didn't work and I'd go get a snack or watch TV.

I think we can fall into that trap of approaching God like a big Magic 8 Ball.  Oh, we wouldn't admit it, we'd call it something much more spiritual.  We ask God for something, don't like His answer, so give it another whirl.  Maybe ask a different way, or just go our own way.

I am going to a conference this Friday and I need to pick out which workshops I'll attend.  I thought maybe God could show me which ones He has for me, during our hour (yes, I was trying to multitask). It felt more like I was picking from a menu. This one sounds good, but that sounds better. I wonder which one someone else will pick.  I don't really need that one, and so on. Some sessions have several good choices, a couple sessions don't have anything that really stand out to me.

How do I know if it is God telling me which to choose, or is it my own desires taking over, or is the enemy distracting me?  Is this all just randomness?  Do the little things matter? Does He even care which workshop I attend?

So think of someone you know really well. You know how you can sometimes finish their sentences? You have inside jokes.  You know what they are going to say when you bring up a certain topic. I think as we draw near to God, as we spend more time with Him. We start to understand His character. We can anticipate what would please Him, what He would say.

Remember when you were in Junior High and you wanted to have a sleep over.  You knew exactly which parent to ask, because you knew what their answer would be.  You knew because you'd spent your whole life living under the same roof with them.

I think this may be a glimpse of what it is like when we want to know God's will for us or for a decision we need to make.  Oh, I think He will tell us specifically when we ask.  But I also think that since we know His character, since we know Him, sometimes we just know the right decisions.

So tomorrow I will look over the catalog for the conference again and prayerfully circle the ones that draw my attention. I will trust my relationship with Him.  I will ask Him to redirect my steps if I make the wrong choice.  And then I'll close the catalog and spend more time with Him and not a brochure.

John Piper said, "The quest for guidance is the quest for holiness! Not in ecstatic heights but in spiritual depth."

As you ask, seek and knock, may He answer, be found and open the next door for you. As you know Him more, may you know His heart for you. And if you need to let your Bible flop open because you are just too weary to do anything else, may you be encouraged.

The 40 Day Journey - Day 23 (Decisions)

Last week someone asked me about some plans of mine.  I replied with, "I haven't prayed about it yet." And then proceeded to go on my merry way.  Until today. This morning as I was thinking about what God would have for our hour, I remembered the statement I had made to my friend. Would I be brave enough to ask God for a decision?

I came home, set my timer for one hour, and sat with my Bible in my favorite reading spot. I asked God to clear my mind from distractions. Then I asked Him, out loud, what I should do about this decision.  It's not a huge one, not life or death.  It doesn't really affect anyone else.  I really want to do what He has decided for me.  He has made a way already and I desire to walk in it.

I sat quietly for awhile and then read some scriptures.  I had some reservations so I decided to write them down.  I'll have to change my work schedule for a few days.  There is a cost involved.  I paused. Then I just decided to be brutally honest and wrote, "I don't deserve this".  Ugh, where do those thoughts come from?  Not from God that is for sure.

I looked out at God's creation and asked Him again, yes or no?  What is your plan? I remembered a blog I wrote a few days ago on courage and decided to reread it.  It is kind of funny that God used a blog I wrote (by His grace) to speak to me!  In it I mentioned wanting to use the story of Abraham somehow sometime.  I also shared Matthew 14:27. Jesus walked on water in the middle of a storm to his disciples who were fretting in a battered boat. "Take courage, it is I: do not be afraid", He commanded.

All of a sudden the stove timer started beeping.  And I didn't have an answer yet!  So like I do every morning, I  hit the snooze.  I reset the timer for 15 more minutes.  I really wanted an answer today.

God reminded me of Abraham, one of my role models.  He lived by faith.  And I thought about Jesus' words to His fearful disciples, "take courage". I felt as if God was asking me, "Will it take any faith or courage to say no to this decision?"  No, it would take neither courage nor faith to say no. I wouldn't have to make any more decisions and I would continue on my merry way.

To say yes, however, will take both faith and courage.  And there was my answer.  What is faith unless we are stepping out of the boat, eyes fixed on Jesus, into a place of total trust in the One who calls us.  Faith without works is dead.  I can believe all I want, but unless I trust Him and put it to the test, how will I know if it is real? So I am trusting He is saying yes. And He already knows I need courage to continue in this path.  So here we go, one step at a time, one obstacle at a time. He will lead. Courage, dear heart.

Just to confirm this another time, God reminded me of The Path of Least Resistance blog I wrote last year...sure God, use my own words to convict me!!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 22 (Perseverance)

But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.  Luke 8:15

For my hour today, I was able to get away and go for a walk.  I debated where to go, the weather was not favorable of a leisurely walk, and I wanted to stay close.  I decided on Chambers Creek, because once you commit to it, you are stuck - no shortcuts.

Fortunately I had a rain coat and umbrella...both were needed.  I cleared my mind of the day's cares and asked God for some encouragement.  This is this week's focus after all.

I stopped by the water and watched two fly fisherman.  They had on their waders and were casting their lines.  The wind caught them most every time and pulled the lines quickly back toward shore and not out to their destination. 

The rain was really coming down now and I was almost to the hill filled with trees on the way up the trail.  I felt I should get going to get some cover from the wind and rain.  This is not a fun part of this path since it winds back and forth and back and forth and well, you get it. 

I was cold and tired and not particularly excited about this walk.  I hadn't really heard anything yet and I was wishing I had chosen a coffee shop to meet with God instead.

When I reached the top (finally), there was no one there.  Someone is always there.  It is a great look out over the water and golf course and has a nice long bench to rest.  

I kept walking, mostly because now I was about 1/2 way and I just wanted to reach the car.
I rounded the corner at the top to head down toward the car and noticed these golfers.  I thought it'd be fun to see how they did.  

This particular hole, they have to hit the ball over a field,  onto a small green with a grassy hill on one side and multiple sand traps on the other, not a lot of grace on this hole.  I watched the first guy and I lost the ball from sight almost immediately.  The next guy teed up and hit a bright yellow ball (thanks, that was much easier to see).  I watched it fly high and straight.  It landed on the green and stopped inches from the hole.  I almost yelled, it was actually exciting.

So why all these short stories.  About half way through my walk, I heard the word "persevere". Now, today I was supposed to hear something like God loves me, He gives good gifts, He is kind, something encouraging remember?.  Not perseverance.  

With almost every step that is all I heard. Then I remembered those fisherman in the rain, patiently casting their lines.  I remembered the hill I grudgingly climbed.  The golfers hitting their ball out of sand traps and finishing the course.  I gave in and asked God if he wanted me to learn perseverance.  He said yes.  What surprised me was that He showed me that it is a gift.

I am guessing those fisherman have caught something in the past, otherwise why would they continue to fish? There was a prize for faithfully waiting for a tug on their line.  When I reached the top of the hill, I was satisfied (and relieved) and I was able to enjoy the beautiful view.  The golfers. Well, that almost hole in one was pretty exciting.  

And from the verse above, through perseverance we bear fruit (since we abide in the Vine). There is good in perseverance.  Yes, I guess temporarily there may be pain or suffering to endure, but that is just for a moment right?

Talk about perseverance!
After all, "By perseverance the snail reached the ark." said Charles Spurgeon.  

I took this picture during our Moms in Prayer walk (the Middle School moms in prayer, not the Elementary one...) We did a few laps around the school.  We noticed this snail on the sidewalk. After we completed one loop around the school, this poor snail had barely made it a few inches.  But of course we know with perseverance, it will make it to its next meal.

So I learned today, that perseverance is good.  It bears fruit, it stays faithful, it has rewards, and it is worth it.  Just as different as those fishermen looked from the golfers, perseverance will look different for each of us.  We all have our own pace.  

I am also reminded from yesterday's lesson, perseverance leads to hope and hope does not disappoint. So persevere fellow journeyman. God promises it will be worth it.

The 40 Day Journey - Day 21 (Hope Finale)

I had one more hour with God today listening and asking Him to bring clarity to anything that I needed to understand about hope. (...for now)

I have been thinking about the ways I toss around words like mercy, hope, grace as if they are common words, trivial.  Last week when someone said to not lose hope to me, I really wanted to understand what that meant, it is not a cliche or shallow word. 

That was my motive in bringing this to the Lord and He has settled some truths in my heart about this. In the seeking is finding and this is what I found.

Hope is both a noun and a verb, it has a biblical definition and it has a Webster's Definition.  Hope has great depth of meaning in scripture.  It is connected with perseverance and joy.  Hope is eternal. ("But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." 1 Cor. 13:13) Hope is what we received when the veil was torn and is our passage to God. (*bonus side note: passage as defined in Webster's is "a long, narrow space that connects one place to another", does this remind you of other scriptures?)

To wrap these thoughts up, God directed me to Ezekiel 37 today. I read about the vision of the Valley of Dry Bones.  You can read it too, but the Nancy shortened version is, God showed Ezekiel a valley of dry bones. He then said to tell them in verses 5-6, 

"Thus says the Lord God to these bones, 'Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life...and you will know that I am the Lord.'"

God explains that the dry bones are the House of Israel and they say, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished...." and then God makes a promise in verse 14:

"And I will put My Spirit within you, and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it,"...

Did you see that sequence?  Israel's hope had perished and God promises to put His Spirit within them so they will have life!  And why does He do this?  That they may know God.  If we back up a chapter, Ezekiel 36:22 says, "...It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name..."

I feel like I have had a bipolar experience on this journey of untangling my ideas of hope.  I've swung from one end of deciding to never use the word "hope" unless I am speaking of Jesus and looking up dozens of verses to support this idea to a very simple explanation: Hope is Jesus. And He is enough. 

And I need not fret. If I do "lose" my hope, God is at the ready to breath life into these dead bones of mine and restore what was lost. And this is not for my sake, but for His holy name.  

I mentioned yesterday that we heard Jon Guerra in concert, one line from his song is, "I don't know what I don't know, but what I know is You and Your love and that is enough for me."

So I don't know everything there is to know about hope. And that is okay. I know Jesus and He is hope, and that is enough for me.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 20 (Sharpening)

It has been a long day and it is way past my bedtime.  However, I don't want to miss what God had for me today (okay, yesterday - it is 1am!)

My day was full of interactions with fellow believers, who happen to be also good friends.  We of course had Moms in Prayer today (God is Pure was the attribute).  We laughed out of sheer weariness of our weeks.  This laughter was good medicine.

I had coffee with a dear friend and had a great discussion on hope - side note, hadn't planned on bringing up what we talked about right now, but I really am trying to still figure this out.  I asked if I can say "I hope your mom gets better."   Because in Romans 5 we know that hope does not disappoint and yesterday I learned that basically true hope = Christ.  So can I throw around the word hope as if there is not deep meaning to it?  I hope it doesn't rain.  I hope we have a nice summer.  I hope your adoption goes through.  I hope your mom gets better. These all have the potential of disappointing.  So if we use hope in regards to things of this earth, does it diminish the true meaning, can it lead to hopelessness....I may be beating a dead horse here, but I truly desire to understand this.

Anyway, I stopped by work and was able to appreciate the amazing office staff we have.  They put others interests above their own, they are hard working, and they love to laugh. Just by being who God created them to be and by using their gifts for God's Kingdom, I am challenged and encouraged.

Then it was off to the Roadshow in Kent with more dear friends.  We saw several Christian artists, including Jamie Grace, David Crowder, Matt Maher, and MercyMe. We heard a new guy that we really liked, Jon Guerra.  Julia really wanted his CD, as we were walking out at the end of the show, she saw him standing by his table talking with his fans.

I had her stand behind him for a quick photo op.  He turned around and laughed and immediately drew everyone in for group shot.  Great guy!

So how do these moments figure into my time with God today?  I still had been working through this idea of hope and asking God to reveal to me what I needed to learn.

However, He showed me something different.  God showed me that He has strategically placed people in my life to "sharpen" me - as the verse says above.  God uses other believers to help shape us.  The interactions I had today, encouraged me and made me think.

I love the two pictures above.  The first one, there is no interaction, not much good comes from admiring someone.  Your lives are completely independent and no good has come to either of you. The second picture represents relationship.  We truly need each other.

So tonight I say thank you for being a fellow sojourner and for sharpening me to be more like Christ. And thank you for the discussions on hope: in person and even on Facebook.  Thank you for unfolding scripture to me. You truly are a treasure!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 19 (Hope)

I don't even know where to start tonight.  Yesterday is the first day I didn't blog about my hour with God during Lent.  It was not for lack of trying.

During our time together yesterday, I was asking God about hope. I was trying to figure out how the truth of scripture fit in with the thoughts in my head.  For instance, I hope my kids have a good day, I hope it will be sunny this weekend, I hope my husband's cancer does not come back. Those are decent things, but if I put my hope in those, I very well could be disappointed.  But Romans 5:5 says hope does not disappoint.

I couldn't get past this so I raised my hands from the laptop in surrender and instead of blogging I went to my Facebook friends.  I asked them what hope was, and man do I have amazing friends. I felt they all "got it" right away, quoting scriptures and giving personal experiences.

I quickly figured out I was confusing earthly hope, wishful thinking, with the hope that can only come from God.  My brother-in-law just had a health scare this weekend that was pretty serious.  I hoped he would be okay, can I hope for that? I feel like the answer is no since my hope should be in God. (See why I can't figure this out, how can I not hope someone I love would be well?) I guess I hope in God and that He will work these things for His glory, no matter the outcome. But it really changes my perspective.

I "happened" to have planned on spending time with Judy Gann today, the author of The God of all Comfort.  I presented my dilemma to her and she pulled out her book.  She has a devotional on just this topic! She writes, "The hope we place in earthly things and people falters. The hope we place in God is firm and secure -- as solid as an anchor (Heb 6:19)."

So I went to Hebrews 6:19 and it says "This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil." I have read that scripture dozens of times and honestly just skipped over it because it did not make sense.  Hope.  Anchor.  Veil.  How do these even relate?

So let's go through this and see where we land.  Hope as an anchor.  This makes sense I guess.  An anchor is sure and steadfast. When we are connected to the anchor we know we are safe. We may be tossed about in life's storms, but not tossed out of reach.  The Greek word for anchor is a metaphor for safeguard.  Which can be defined as a permit for safe passage, something that ensures safety. (and specifically of our soul)

Then we have veil.  This is a reference to the veil before the Holy of Holies in the temple.  This is where the Ark of the Covenant rested, God's earthly dwelling place.  Only the high priest could go in once a year to make atonement for the sins of himself and the people.  No one else was allowed access.  In Matthew 27:50-51 as Jesus yielded His spirit while hanging crucified on the cross, the veil was literally torn from top to bottom in the tabernacle.  This veil was 60 feet high, 30 feet wide and four inches thick, only God could have done this.

The veil represented the division between God and man, which is sin.  When Christ died, He took all of our sin upon Himself that we may have access to God.  When Christ died, the veil torn, His life as a sacrifice, we were then allowed to be in God's very presence!  It is finished!  Done deal, no take backs.

Remember when I said the Greek word for anchor was a metaphor for safeguard (a safe passage)? We have this hope (Jesus) as an anchor (a safe passage) to God, we have access (through the veil) now to the God of the universe, nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus! Though the things of this earth that can be shaken are shaken, our circumstances, our health, our families...hope remains, steadfast and sure. (1 Cor 13:13)

Here is the deal. I feel like this is both profoundly simple and completely complex at the same time. What I know is that at this very moment, I am desperate for hope.  I struggle with hoping for things here on earth, things that are seen, temporary.  I struggle with despair and hopelessness. What I also know (now) is that this gift of hope is mine.  How do I know?  Because Galatians 2:20 says,

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

Galatians tells me that Christ lives in me, and Hebrews tells us that Christ is hope. Then can't we then deduce that hope lives in me?  I already have what I so desperately have been grasping after.

Of course God is His sweetness gave me a song, Cornerstone by Hillsong...Christ alone; Cornerstone, Weak made strong in the Saviour's love, Through the storm; He is Lord, Lord of all. My anchor holds within the veil.

My anchor, both sure and steadfast, holds within the veil. And I am in the presence of God.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 17 (Courage)

My first panic attack was about five years ago.  I had just finished a kick boxing class at the YMCA. As I was leaving, my heart rate felt a little higher than normal.  I brushed it off as an intense class. I left the parking lot and realized my heart rate was increasing, not decreasing. I had no idea what was happening and wondered if I could make it to the local hospital just two miles away.

I only made it a couple of blocks and was certain I was about to pass out.  I saw an office complex and noticed a church office sign. I pulled in and was able to put the car in park.  I remember unlocking my door thinking after I passed out, someone from the church office might come out and help me. Well, I never did pass out. Instead, that was just the first in a series of panic attacks over the next several months.

Two weeks ago, I explored what God was teaching me in brokenness.  Last week I listened to God as He taught me about the cost of following Him.  I was feeling pretty weary and was hoping this week could be one of being encouraged.

I came home today, grabbed my Bible, and sat down in my dining room, which is actually a rocking chair and love seat.  The sun was beating down and I almost had to squint to see the white pages as I searched the Psalms.  God was indeed confirming that this week was to be a week of encouragement.

I asked God if there was a story in the Bible where someone was encouraged in the middle of a mess.  I tried for Abraham again...one of these days He'll let me have that one.  Instead, He directed me to Matthew 14.

John the Baptist was just beheaded, Jesus went away to be by Himself, but the crowds and the disciples followed after Him.  Jesus felt compassion on them and healed many.  When evening came and everyone was hungry, He fed thousands of them with five loaves and two fish!

At the end of a very long day we see in verse 22 that He made the disciples get in a boat and take off and He sent the crowds away.  He needed to be alone to pray.

It appears that sometime in the middle of the night there was some kind of storm.  We read that the disciple's boat was battered and the wind was "contrary".  Can you imagine any of this?  John was just beheaded, the disciples buried his body, they followed the crowd from the city to find Jesus, they had been surrounded by sick people all day, they had been hungry and tired, and now they were fearful for their lives in the middle of a storm.  And then, guess what...they really freak out because there is a ghost walking toward them on the water!

However, it was not a ghost.  It was Jesus. He was walking on water toward the boat.  He did not reprimand them, He did not scold them, He did not say "come on guys, really?!".  No, while they were panicking and not even looking for Him, He came to them.  His words?  "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid."

Jon Bloom, president of Desiring God says, "Courage is our resolve to face a fearful threat.  And courage comes from hope - a hope in something stronger than what we fear."

In light of this quote, Peter "took courage" and faced the fearful threat of the storm. And when Christ bid him come, Peter stepped out of the boat and walked on water! (We have read that so many times that I think we have lost the wonder of that miracle...he literally walked ON water!) Peter had hope in something stronger than his fear, he had hope in God.

Back to my story, when I realized I was having panic attacks and I wasn't dying, I begged God to take them away.  They are so awful.  During those months, I became very close with the Lord.  I prayed more than previous months, I trusted Him with my very life, totally depending on Him to protect me.

He showed me in those months how to "take courage", even if the storm still raged, I had hope.  I think God reminded me of those months to show me that even though I am not experiencing panic attacks today, I can still take courage in the middle of my current struggles.

I don't know when I wrote this or who said it,  but next to Matthew 14 in my Bible, I wrote, "The point is not that we have nothing to fear but that His presence is the basis for our courage."

Did you notice in the scripture passage that the disciples were basically just freaking out.  And Christ came to them.  They didn't stop and pray, they didn't even yell for Him.  They were focused on their fears. In His grace, Jesus walked on water to get to them, His presence gave them courage.

I'm praying in the midst of our storms, we can look out and see Jesus.  He is present.  Take courage. Do not be afraid.  God does not promise an easy life, He does promise to be with us. There is no place too far or too difficult for Him to reach.  We are not beyond His grasp, on the contrary, I think we are in it.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 16 (Obedience)

Disclaimer: I was hoping God would tie all that I learned this week into a neat little bow to top off another week of listening to Him.  I have typed and deleted enough words for 100 more blog posts tonight.  I debated even publishing what follows.  But by faith, I am putting it out there. I guess I am saying all this because there is so much more to these portions of scriptures.  This is just a small morsel as we taste and see that the Lord is good.

A crazy thing happened as we were driving home from Gig Harbor last week. Mt. Rainier was right in front of us. Then as we approached the bridge it moved!  It was on our left.  Of course the mountain didn't move, just our view of it changed.  If you've ever kayaked on American Lake the same thing happens, the mountain seems to move.

So as I have looked at Luke 14 more times than I can count this week, the truth of it hasn't changed. I just think God has me looking at it from a different perspective now.

I came across the above verse earlier this week and it has stuck with me.  Of course the Keith Green song also keeps playing in my mind.  The verse says, to obey is better than sacrifice. As I consider the cost to follow Christ, it equates with sacrifice for me.  This verse says obedience is better than sacrifice. So if we are to sacrifice for Christ, how much better is it then to obey Him?  Is that what God is showing me?

So do we just obey for the sake of obeying?  Remember when your mom would ask you to do something and she would say "Just obey me" and we would follow up with every parent's favorite question, "Why?!".  To be countered with the famous, "Because I said so".  I have sometimes thought of God in this same way.  The bible says to obey, so I will because He says so.

As I looked up verses on obedience I noticed many of them had promises attached (maybe all of them??).  Act 5:32 promises the Holy Spirit to those that obey.  Hebrews 5:9 promises eternal salvation to those who obey.  In Genesis 6 God promises to establish a covenant with Noah if he obeys and builds the ark.  There are many more examples.

So maybe we obey and count the cost not just because God says so, but so we can receive His promises.  That sure seems selfish though. Which would apparently work for me.  But we also live by faith and somehow this fits in too. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), even with our obedience.  So it must take faith to obey God.  And we believe that He rewards those that seek Him.  But again, it can't be for the reward, right?

Luke 14:27 says, "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple."  This verse says to carry our own cross, it must look different for each of us.  What God has asked of me is not what He has asked of you.  I must take up my own cross and follow Him. How do I do that?  By being obedient.  Christ was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  And why?  For the joy set before Him....for the promise.  (See Philippians 2 and Hebrews 12:2)

Christ could not have been motivated to obey out of selfishness, to obey for the reward.  He was God after all, probably doesn't get much better than that.  But I wonder if He was strengthened by the promise?  The promise of eternal life for you and for me gave Him strength to endure the greatest cost to anyone ever.

I do still think it is important to consider the cost in following Christ, but more importantly I think we need to obey Him.  Even if we don't understand.  And we can only obey Him by our faith in Him. May His promises strengthen us as we journey together this road of obedience set before us.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 15 (Bloopers 2.0)

(Okay, so I don't really have bloopers this time either! But I felt like I needed to let you know the "insider's" scoop on what God is revealing to me, here we go.)

This has been quite the journey.  It is overwhelming to think about these last two weeks and all the things the Lord has shown me and taught me.  I need you to know something though.  I am not special.  I don't have a direct line to God that is accessible for a select few.

Yes, I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).  Yes, God knew all about me before He crafted me together in my mother's womb (Jeremiah 1:5). Yes, God is at work in me (Philippians 1:6). But this is true of you too. And true of millions of others...doesn't sound like we are very unique.

However, Moses got a burning bush.  Balaam had a talking donkey.  Jonah was in a great fish.  Saul was struck blind.  Job had sore boils from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.  Paul had a thorn in his flesh. I have a blog.  These are pretty unique ways for God to reveal Himself to His people.

The common thread?  God speaks to His children, to all of us (John 10:27). The way He reveals Himself is almost always different.  I have heard stories of God speaking through nature multiple times: a sand dollar, a sunset, a stream, a mountain, the rain, the sun...you get the idea.

What I am trying to say, is that God wants to talk with you too.  In fact I believe He is already talking...maybe we just don't always listen.  I am famous for letting my mind wander as my kids tell me a story, all of a sudden I realize they are still talking and I haven't heard a word they have said. I think we are like that with God sometimes.  He is talking, but our minds are in multiple other places.

I was thinking about that torn dollar from yesterday, (Day 14) it was almost a shout from God confirming the truth of what He was teaching me.  It was so specific and so clear. However, if I hadn't been listening to Him, I would have thought that dollar bill was trash.

I can't begin to understand God's ways, or why He would go to great lengths to love us and speak with us, but He does.  While I don't think I am special, I do think that God made me a certain way. For some reason when I blog I can discern His voice.  However, this probably isn't true for most of you.  So how does God speak to you?  I think as you begin to listen, to look around, to ask Him to speak to you, you will hear Him.  As you practice this spiritual exercise, His voice will become clearer and louder.

I found this quote, it says: We want big directional signs from God. God just wants us to pay attention.  (Lysa Terkheurst)

So will you "pay attention" these next few days?  Take notice of your surroundings.  Ask Him what He is saying to you.  Spend some time in the Bible or listen to Christian music or go to church. God in His uniqueness and creative ways will be speaking to you.  I hope you can listen and hear His voice, because that is truly special.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 14 (When to Count the Cost)

So I am still trying to understand Luke 14:25-35 and what is this "cost" all about in following Christ. Here is the bullet point version of this passage:
  • We cannot be Christ's disciple unless we hate our family
  • If we do not carry our own cross and follow Him we cannot be His disciple
  • An example of someone wanting to build a tower, don't they sit down first and calculate the cost to see if they can complete it?  If they don't they will be ridiculed
  • Parable of the king going to battle with 10,000 going up against 20,000, he sits down and takes counsel if they are strong enough or else to decide to send out a delegation and asks for terms of peace
  • No one can be His disciple who does not give up all his own possessions
  • Then it ends with this, "Salt is good, but if it becomes tasteless...it is useless"
These seem a little random to me, the thread that I thought was throughout was counting the cost and being prepared.  So my big question today was "when" do we count the cost?  It doesn't make sense to count the cost before becoming a believer. When Jesus called His disciples, He said "follow Me" and they dropped what they were doing and followed Him.  

So then do we count the cost after we become believers, but how do we even know the cost? I knew this is what I needed to talk to God about during our hour...if only I could be quiet long enough to hear His voice.

I was in Tacoma and was ready for my hour. I got in my car and asked God for a meeting place.  I felt like He was asking me for my ideal place.  I figured a cup of coffee by the water on this gorgeous day sounded perfect.  So I headed down to the Vashon Ferry Landing.

I parked and read through the Luke 14 passage, I looked up some of the Greek words and cross references.  Then I got out and stood by the water.  I always look for seals or dolphins or whales...I've seen an occasional seal and once some dolphins. I talked with God for awhile and asked Him to explain the "when" to me of this passage.  I then heard a very familiar sound, a high pitched whistling. I knew it was an eagle call and immediately looked around.  There were two eagles perched atop this flag pole.
I remembered reading that eagles stay together for life.  They are committed to one another.  Ah, is that what You are saying about this passage?  I don't need to worry about the when of counting the cost, but maybe what I need to understand is the full commitment God wants from me.

If we look at the verses, Christ wants us committed to Him above our family and our own life.  He wants us committed to finishing what He has started in us, to commit to the battle before us, to commit our earthly treasures.  And why does He want our full commitment?  Because salt is good. We are the salt of the earth, we are the flavor of Christ in this world.  And if salt loses its taste, what good is it?  It is useless.  If we are not fully committed to Christ, what good are we?  

Revelation 3:16 says "So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot or cold, I will spit you out of My mouth."  Hot and cold water have great uses....lukewarm water is useless.  Commit to being fully hot or fully cold, be used for your intended purpose.

I asked Him several times if this is what He was showing me today, I thought through each of those bullet points above.  It seems to be right.  I stared at those eagles for a majority of the rest of our time together.  I really felt He was confirming this truth to me as I watched them.  Our time went by too quickly and I was off to attend to the rest of the day.

I picked up the kids and we went to watch some friends play soccer.  As we were leaving, Daniel picked up a torn section of a dollar bill and handed it to me.  I said, "Where is the rest?  This is useless."  And I just smiled and laughed. God said "Exactly."  It was a picture of the truth He was teaching me.  A partial dollar is useless, I might as well throw it out.  A partial commitment to the Lord, holding onto things of this world while trying to love God is useless.  He requires a full commitment.  And that is the cost to us.

I don't know that I fully understand this yet.  I have more days of being partially committed than fully committed, does that mean I have been useless?  What we need to understand is most of this section of scripture is a parable.  One of our pastors taught me that a parable is a story that is designed to make a point and draw out an intended response. (Thanks Pastor Reg!)

I don't want to dissect each piece unnecessarily. But what is the point of this portion of Luke 14? And what is the intended response?  What I think God wanted to clarify today for me is that no matter the cost, am I willing to be "all in"?  Will I be fully committed to following Jesus? Will He be above my family, my possessions, my comfort. 

I heard a new song, "Let Go" by Elevation Worship.  Some of the lyrics say:
Your love it better than anything this world has to offer, than anything this world has to give.  So I let go, I leave it all behind, let go - I'm taking up Your life, all for Your name, even if it costs me everything. I surrender all, I surrender all to Jesus, I surrender all.

And I guess that is it, that we may know there is nothing this world has to offer that is better than the love of Christ Jesus.  So I will surrender all, every day.  And maybe that is what being fully committed looks like.