Sunday, February 28, 2010

“Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the...

…people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" John 4:28-29

Our ladies group is studying “Bad Girls of the Bible” by Liz Curtis Higgs. How’s that for a catchy title? The book has been around for a while, but I had never heard of it, so it definitely intrigued me. This week, we studied the story of the Samaritan woman at the well and her transformational encounter with Jesus.

As our group discussed the story and all the layers we uncovered, a few things really started to resonate. We talked about this woman’s history, speculated about how she had gotten to the place of shame and guilt that may have been the motivation for the timing of her trip to the well. We talked about the likelihood that maybe she was trying to avoid the other women for fear of ridicule.

And yet, here she was, all alone engaged in a lengthy conversation with The Messiah! Unbelievable. Well, unbelievable until you unpack it and let it sink in some more. Jesus knew everything this woman had ever done in her life. He knew all the poor and unwise choices she had made and how she had come to have had five husbands and was living with a sixth man (knowledge we aren’t privy to). He knew all this and still offered her redemption and forgiveness and a new life in Him.

The woman, made new in Christ Jesus, went off and told everyone she could about this man at the well. This is the same woman who just minutes before didn’t even want to be at the well at the same time as the other women of the town. Here she was singing from the rooftops, so to speak.

One of the things that was mentioned in the discussion was that the woman left her clay jar behind when she hurried into town to tell others of her encounter. There’s a picture for you. We were challenged to think about our “clay pots” and what we’ve either left, or need to leave behind in our walk. That has been stirring around in my head for a few days now and I’ve got to say, it’s been a challenge. A challenge because there are lots of pots that I think I’ve continued to carry, even though I’ve been long forgiven of the contents.

For years, I know the choices I made were not wise, and even though I knew right from wrong, I still chose the route of sin more times than I’d care to admit. That started to fill up the pots of shame and guilt. Those stinkers were pretty heavy. And there are pots of judgment, non-forgiveness, anger, etc. Boy that list was longer than I want to go into! But then, I asked Jesus into my heart and He washed me clean of all of that and so much more.

The beauty of redemption is that those pots, and their contents, have been shattered by the forgiveness that has been extended. I no longer have to be weighed down by them. In fact, I am doing my Savior a huge disservice if I continue to carry them. My faith in Him is the only thing that I need to carry with me every day. Oh, sweet freedom in Him. There is nothing better.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

“But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44

A few days ago I started an online Bible study with Lysa Terkeurst, the founder and president of Proverbs 31 Ministries. The first couple days were really eye-opening ideas about how to be in the right place – in your mind and in your heart – when you sit down to spend time in the Word. They are likely basics for many people, but I am one of those who can really struggle with Scripture and how to connect it back to everyday life. Lysa’s teachings are helping already.

Today, we were challenged to read Philippians 1 and really sink our teeth into the meaning. There is a reason we were to be reading that chapter today and Lysa’s questions offered some thought-provoking insights. The verse that stuck for me was Philippians 1:6. “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” It hit home because I’ve been feeling a bit of an extra challenge with work lately. Some adjustments, some new territory and some uncertainty have snuck into my “everyday.” It’s been a little tricky. Normally, I’m a pretty upbeat, positive and fun-loving person and lately, I’ve even felt like “I’m not me” at the office. So, this verse got me thinking and really helped me to stop and recognize all the good things that God has laid in my path in my professional life. And, it gave me confidence that even those situations or people who can make things very difficult, are there for a reason and that I shouldn’t let that take away from the greater purpose. I have to admit, I feel a lot better and am more clear-headed now than I was before today’s session. Note to Lysa, mission accomplished for today!

This evening was girls’ night – just me and my 7-year-old daughter. She has had some struggles lately in school. She’s an amazingly confident and capable young lady. Almost to the point that it can get her in trouble. After what my husband and I hope was the peak of the issue a couple weeks ago, we think we’ve turned the corner. This has been a topic of a lot of discussion lately, as you can imagine. We’ve talked about making good choices and every day before school we talk about having a Jesus attitude. She’s been doing great. Tonight, she spent at least 15 minutes telling me all the things that she has been doing lately to demonstrate this new attitude.

We chatted about how much better it is when you do what is right, even when it’s uncomfortable. This led to a discussion about the not-so-wise behavior of some of her classmates. It’s natural for children to want to tell on their classmates when they are behaving badly. But something tonight nudged me to ask her if she ever thinks about why those kids are acting that way? We rarely know the motivation behind someone’s actions and it could very well be a cry for help. Maybe they really just don’t realize what a bad choice they are making. Either way, Jesus tells us to love our enemy and even offer our other cheek when being mistreated. I pulled out my Bible and read her Matthew 5:44. In her typical, 7-year-old, “I know it all” way she looked at me and said, “mommy, every time we talk about something that happens, you have a story from the Bible about it!” I had to laugh out loud and quietly praise God! “That’s because this book is God’s instruction manual for how He expects us to live,” I responded. There’s nothing that we will go through in life that there isn’t help in here for, I told her.

And, then, ahh the irony. Or better yet, the teaching moment. Not for her, but for me. As I re-read that verse and thought about the very words I spoke to my daughter I realized perhaps the lesson was for me. Perhaps I needed to remember to love my enemy. On a day where I had spent a lot of time thinking through the application of Philippians 1, I found a very big connection for everyday life nestled in Matthew and a conversation with my sweet, insightful daughter.

Friday, February 19, 2010

“This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears. No one is near to comfort me, no one to...

…restore my spirit. My children are destitute because the enemy has prevailed.” Lamentations 1:16

I was up early this morning, so I grabbed my Bible, a cup of coffee and a cozy blanket. My dog (all 22 pounds of him) snuggled up in my lap. Ahh. This was going to be a good time of joy with the Lord. Yesterday, I read some advice about how to experience more in your walk with the Lord and I was anxious to begin. So, before I opened my Bible I prayed to receive the Word and asked that God speak to me today. I was fully expecting something much different than what I got.

The first section was from Job and was focused on Job’s wife. Oh boy. I started to wonder what I was supposed to “get” from this. As I read about this family that literally lost everything, faced immeasurable suffering and yet, Job pointed out, “shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 1:10) The second section was from Lamentations 1 and 2, painting the picture of the destroyed Jerusalem. I settled in on the verse above, Lamentations 1:16. And then it hit me as her name pressed into my spirit. The message for me in today’s reading is something that I’ve had on my heart for such a long time. I’ve thought about writing this in a letter, but it never felt right. Maybe, just maybe, putting it on paper in this blog will bring peace to someone who desperately needs it.

I have a dear friend whose suffering throughout her life has been the kind that no one would want to believe possible, not unlike Job and his wife’s. She suffered through trauma after trauma in life. Most recently, she lost her husband far too early to circumstances that leave more questions than answers and terminal illness plagues the one member of her family that she can lean on for strength. She is now a widow with two small children and a broken spirit. It’s terribly difficult to see happening to anyone, but especially in the life of someone you care so much about.

And yet, in all this, the part that literally breaks my heart is that she is living this life without the peace and comfort that only Jesus can give. I pray all the time for God to soften her heart and open her ears so she can hear the whisper and feel the nudge. I pray to be one of the lights that help to lead her to the road of salvation. I know that God had brought along side her several friends who love and care for her – and more importantly, friends who are encircling her and her children with prayer.

What do you do when you love someone and want them to know the peace and hope that only Jesus offers, and yet they remain closed to it? Even say things like “I’m pretty angry with your God for letting all this happen.” I certainly don’t have the answers, but in one of those moments, I heard myself saying “well, you may not want to hear this, but He still loves you unconditionally and wants to be in your life.” The thing I continue to do is pray, because I know that works. And we love them and do whatever we can to help them.

I can’t even begin to understand the kind of suffering that Job, or my friend, endured. What I do know that that if a heart is open and made that acceptance of faith in Jesus, there is no sin that can’t be forgiven or suffering that cannot be redeemed for His glory.

Like my sweet little dog cuddled up in my lap this morning, we long to have a safe place we can curl up in where we feel safe, loved and protected. That place, is in God’s loving arms. That is the prayer I pray for my friend. That some day, she will accept the life-changing gift that is salvation. And that through that acceptance, peace will come and she will find rest in the only place there is true rest.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

“When I consider your heaven, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place...

... what is man that you are mindful of him?” Psalm 8:3-4

I was flying today and was fortunate to have a window seat. It is simply breathtaking to sit and look out at God’s creation. My view at 37,000 feet was of the incredible snow-covered mountain peaks of the Rocky Mountains. There really is nothing like it.

As I sat there taking it in, I was thinking about snowflakes and sand. Anyone who knows me knows that the beach is my favorite place to be. I have stood on the shore of many beaches and just stared out at the seemingly endless body of water in front of me. That view never gets old. I am always in awe of the vastness of the ocean.

Thinking about snowflakes and sand started me down a path. Every time I look at the mountains or the ocean, I am reminded of just how small I am and how big God is. These creations are massive by my standards, and yet they are only small pieces of God’s entire tapestry. And God took such great care to intricately weave infinite details into creation. I started thinking about all the snow I saw below. Billions and billions of snowflakes all piled on top of one another. And every one of those flakes was unique as it fell from the sky. That’s an incredible thought. The same is true with grains of sand. Billions and billions of individual grains layered to create white powdered beachfront. So much care and detail in such minute molecules.

All for His pleasure and our enjoyment while we are on earth. We have so much beauty around us every day and it’s so easy to look beyond it as we get caught up in our everyday activities. Which is why I love the view from 37,000 feet or standing on the edge of the ocean. It snaps me right out of whatever self-made frenzy I can work up, reminds me of how great He is and reassures me that no matter what, He is there and with me.

Creation is vast, intricate and woven together in patterns that amaze and cause me to marvel. And to think, He also created us and loves us more than any of those things. Small, seemingly insignificant, by comparison to the great mountains or oceans, but so very important to Him. I do wonder, who am I that you are mindful of me? And God whispers ever so gently, ‘you are mine.’ That is all I need to hear.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sex, Lies and Religion by Randy Elrod - Book Review

Reading “Sex, Lies and Religion” by Randy Elrod was like a very freeing therapy session. Readers may not realize how messed up their thinking is until they delve into this book. But the beauty is in redemption, and as readers progress through the “lies” and into the “truths,” revelations begin to occur along with healing, hope and the promise of greater fulfillment.

As I read each chapter depicting the “lies” we’re brought up believing in our different religious backgrounds, I kept thinking, “wow, I never realized!” I have never given myself permission to enjoy sex as God intended. I think subconsciously I was keeping it separate for exactly the reasons Randy discusses. As I moved from the lies to the “truths” in the book, I literally felt a transformation in my thinking. It will be a wonderful pleasure to take on a new approach to sex as the gift that God gave us.

You owe it to yourself to get and read this book! It will challenge your thinking on many levels. It will force you to examine why you think the way you do, but it will also provide you with beautiful, spiritual applications that will release those strongholds of the past and catapult you into a new level of the fullness of God’s love.

To purchase the book, visit this site.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

“He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn...

...and took care of him.” Luke 10:34

Last night as my kids and I were driving on one of the very rural roads near our house, we came upon a vehicle that had lost control, rolled and landed in a ditch upside down. There were a couple other cars in front of us, all of us pulled off to see how we could help. The other drivers were working to see about the number of passengers and getting the driver (the only person in the car) out. They grabbed hammers, smashed windows, and were able to safely free the very shaken up young lady within a few minutes. I had grabbed my cell phone and along with another woman, tried to help the emergency responders find us. We were on a county road that wasn’t registering in their system, so they had to get help to find us.

Afterward, the kids and I were pretty shaken up, but used it as a chance to talk about helping others and having a “Samaritan” attitude. A sermon at our church last week was recounting the parable of the Good Samaritan. It was focused on this passage in Luke. The point was that as Christians, our job of living as Jesus did means that we need to get in and get our hands dirty. If we are going to make a difference in this world, we cannot simply stand on the sidelines and wait for someone more trained or capable to help. Jesus commands us to move in the moment and be His hands and feet to those in this world who need to see His grace.

Later last night, I was heavily burdened with the night’s incidents and the parable of the Samaritan. He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He went further than that and took the injured man to an inn, paid the innkeeper to watch over him and came back for him. It forced me to think, did I do everything I could have for this young girl trapped in her car? Honestly, no. I could have been there with the men working to free her, getting my hands dirty. And, how often do I see opportunity to help someone in need and keep walking, driving or whatever it is I’m doing that I don’t want to be interrupted from by stopping to help. I am always moved to help by disaster, or images on television. But, what about the homeless person on the corner? More often than not, I know I am not tuned in to the opportunity to help. Which reminds me that Jesus said, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' (Matthew 25:40)

God uses these moments to teach. I’ve got a lot to learn. But, my prayer is that my heart stays open to the lessons and I keep moving closer to God with every experience.

Monday, February 1, 2010

“…Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift...

...of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call." Acts 2:38-39

This past weekend, my children and I were baptized! If you ask me, it was long overdue (at least for me), but then again, it’s God’s plan, not mine. He beautifully crafted it so that it was an experience for all three of us, one that none of us will ever forget.

When I look back at the past several years, it’s so easy to see how He has connected the right dots and the right time, bringing amazing people of faith across my path just when I was in a place to receive their message. It’s truly incredible.

When I was very pregnant with my daughter, God brought two wonderful people into my life. Sylvia was a co-worker and her husband, Steve, a pastor. Steve used to come into our office and eat lunch with us. Having him there was like having my own personal life coach. All the questions that I was wrestling with after being raised in the Catholic Church were fair game – Steve and Sylvia had so many answers. I was amazed. Their knowledge and unshakeable faith moved me right into the point of decision. I will never forget when we were interviewing Sylvia we asked her what she would do if she had to decide between the two positions she was up for. She calmly responded that she would pray about it with Steve and let God lead her where He wanted her to be. Wow. I hadn’t ever looked at life that way before. A couple months later, driving along on the way to work listening to Chuck Swindoll preach on the radio, I pulled off and prayed with Chuck at the end of the message.

Not long after, another very special friend told me my faith walk needed to be my priority and was strictly between God and me. That was at a time when I couldn’t understand how I was going to keep growing alone. I thought my whole family needed to share my zeal. I learn and grow much differently than my husband and although I expected him to dive into study with me, that isn’t where Steve’s heart was at the time. And that needed to be okay. Sweet Melinda took me to Borders, bought me “The Spirit-Filled Bible” and turned me loose. She shared with me a glimpse of her faith journey and how it transformed her family – but it took time. It would happen in my family, too, she promised. She was right.

And then, we started attending our church, LifeBridge. A little over a year ago, the Depler family joined our satellite campus as Drew began serving as our minister. Immediately, we knew they were special. Last January, I dove into a Bible study that Drew’s wife, Jennifer, was leading. As if on cue, I immediately was in a situation where I needed prayer and the support of other women. The ladies in my study group barely knew me, but they wrapped their sweet arms around me during a pretty tough time. They prayed, they emailed, they asked, they cared! I was moved to tears the morning of a biopsy when I received an email from Jennifer who told me she had just spent time in prayer for me and wanted me to know she was thinking of me. She had no idea how much that impacted me!

It’s only appropriate that many of these wonderful friends were there with us when the kids and I stepped in to receive the undeserved blessing of being washed clean and made new in Christ. And their love, support and example will live on in me as I continue to take up the challenge of living a life for Jesus.