Friday, July 29, 2011

Knowing Better

Last night while bathing my my two youngest children, Isaiah did something that I didn't approve of and I scolded him by responding with, "Now you know better than that!" As I ended my sentence, I immediately heard, "And you know better too, Jennifer." It wasn't me talking to myself, it was God clearly doing what He does best -lovingly guiding me back on track. I knew it was Him doing what I'd been asking Him to do--keeping me in check. And boy did I need it. My attitude just plain out stunk.

As I replay that moment over in my head I realize that He spoke to me so gently, yet so frankly. He said what I needed to hear in the most loving of ways I didn't speak to Isaiah that way. I wasn't gentle, I was irritable and tired and my tone expressed disgust. If God spoke to me that way, I'd be less likely to seek closeness and share my inner most thoughts. Nor would I take His words so seriously.

I immediately realized that I do know better, but I just don't pay as close attention to how I come off at times as I should. It's a real struggle to see inside myself at times. I relate it to a house with many rooms. The rooms are so small that makes it hard to gain good perception of the room unless you stand in the doorway of each room. If you stand in the middle of the room, you get dizzy as you spin around to try to see it all. He provides me  insight to myself that I can't quite gain on my own. To be blunt about it, there are many times that I can't make my way to a doorway due to the darkness of some of the rooms inside me.  He provides direct access to my room from His angle, one I'm unable to obtain on my own.

I had to ask for that insight. It didn't just drop in on me. He gives us what we need and what we ask for --if it honors Him. The life He wants for us is so much more than the one without Him. I am reminded that although it's tough and there are times where I'm tempted to throw up my hands that I was made for more than this. We were all made for more than our flaws and struggles and limitations. We were made so that He can perform great miracles in the depths of our souls that shine brighter than any lighthouse designed by man. If He works in you, you won't be able to hide it.

1 John 4:4 reminds me that we are made to overcome the world, the battles that rage in us and around us if we believe in the One who came to free us:

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
I'm learning that I have to live intently and be aware of who I am. I can't live in denial over my flaws, or they'll suck me in like a black hole. I have to ask for insight on matters. I have to pay close attention to the insight He gives me. I have to want it enough to focus on the only ONE who can make it happen. I can't do it myself and if you think you can, you're setting yourself up to fail.
I have to meditate on Him in all aspects my daily life. When people treat me in ways I don't like, when things happen outside of my control and when my plans don't go as I hoped I am far too guilty of becoming discouraged. The slightest idea of a battle coming my way can make me faint of heart. I pout and I try to hide it but God sees it. And He's oftentimes called me on it by saying, "You were made for more than this."
And I was, we all were.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

All Alone in the Universe

Juliette, my 10 month old baby girl, has been showing an increasing need to relate in recent weeks. She reaches out to us in a variety of ways-- great big smiles, exciting squeals and shrieks, baby babbles, latching on to us or even trailing behind us with her "superfast" crawl. In the past week, I've observed how she really understands our body language, tones and actual words more than we give her credit for. My sweet Jujubee is quite in tune to her surroundings to an extent that I haven't seen in either of my other children. I began to ponder on what God wanted me to see as I thought about her need for human interaction. I realize that every single one of us have an inborn need to relate.

God's word says that He created man in His image. Many of our ways started from His, but in us sin distorts the actual trait of God himself. We could never possibly fathom how pure and holy He is in relation to us and I think that many times that's why we feel so alone. Our sin has created more of a barrier than we think when it comes to intimacy with Him. Because our thoughts are so impure, we can't even imagine what holy really is. We struggle to relate to Him.

Some of us have more of a need to talk than others, some simply need to sense that they're understood in non verbal ways. Others need to touch while there are some who look for a certain "feeling". Some people put on a good show and pretend that they don't need a thing from the rest of us, but in reality they are only fooling themselves. Because God created us in His image, we need to relate. We need for people to reach out to us and we need to reach out to others.

But because we're so ingrained with sin, our immediate reaction is to run and hide behind a fig leaf, just as Adam and Eve did. Sin makes shame and shame makes us afraid that someone will see us for what we are. We're afraid that someone will see what's really in our hearts and judge us--and many times they do. When that happens, we run right back to our fig leaves and use that experience as an excuse to never bare our naked souls to anyone again. I think we've all faced a time or two like this, I know I have.

I'm convicted lately about hiding behind my fig leaf. I'm convicted that I should step out from behind it on faith and trust Him to use my mere faith to bring light to someone else. I'm convicted that if I hide behind my fig leaf, no one can see the light that He's put in me. And if our mere purpose of being here is to glorify Him, hiding behind a fig leaf is defeating that purpose. Other people need to see our struggles, pains and then they need to see just how He uses those of us who are most weak through faith. If I go around pretending it doesn't hurt, guarding myself from what other's might think or say, I miss an opportunity to help someone to relate and to heal. I'm convinced that there is healing in feeling you're not the only one out there who struggles with this or that.

I've also come to see that when I hide in shame, sin breeds. Satan loves darkness. He loves it when we withdraw so that he can work on our minds. Since Satan loves darkness, the way to combat him is through light. And the way to bring light is to stop hiding.

What's really funny that as I get a glimpse of who mankind is and our ways in general, I'm humored at how silly it is that we justify our thoughts and our actions to suit our own needs. And believe me, I do these very things that I'm laughing at. We get hurt and we draw up in our shell and swear it's best that we hide. We "cut off our noses to spite our faces" by resisting what He says is best. We reap no benefit from it and in the back of our minds, we know it while we're doing it. But we just can't help ourselves--we're full of sin to the innermost of our being.

Juliette's inspired me to step out of my shell more and to let His ways shine through in me. I'm always excited when He uses people and circumstances to feed me morsels like this. I think we underestimate just how often He uses other people's junk and treasure to light our paths.

My prayer is that we'll all pay closer attention to where He is in any given situation because He, like us, wants to feel close. He wants to relate to us. In doing that, He wants us to talk to Him but He also wants us to just shut up and listen sometimes. I think about how much I crave conversation with my husband and I relate it to how He must feel about us. I'm quite sure He wants conversation with us, in all forms. He wants us to involve Him in ALL of our circumstances-- little or big and good or bad. He reaches out to us in ways we often overlook and He wants us to notice Him. But He also wants to be reached out to--not just when we need something. He wants us to talk to Him as much as possible. If we do that, we'll never feel alone.

If we come out from behind our fig leaves, we can relate to Him and also to others who struggle as we do. In turn He uses that to heal both our pain and theirs.

Monday, July 25, 2011

What i Want

Lately, I struggle a lot with feeling like I get what I want less often than anyone else. I really struggle lately to accept the whole "dying to self" part of being a believer. These days, it's a real battle to let go of disappointment and resentment from the perception that I get "the short end of the stick." And you know what? I hate it. I hate that I let this stuff rob me of my joy in other areas of life. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, I wasn't put here to get my way. But I struggle with it nonetheless.

Part of me hates to admit that to another human being, but it's the truth. It's not pretty --but that's only scratching the surface of the uglies of my heart. I catch myself justifying the anger that surfaces sometimes. I have these thoughts, mostly lies, running through my head and it poses a real challenge for me. I think,
"They don't care about you"
"They are just using you"
"No one ever thinks of you or even finds you important"
"You have to stand up for yourself because they're walking on you".

I think maybe I developed this mindset as a small child from observing people take advantage of my mom. My mom has the biggest heart of anyone I've ever known but perhaps subconsciously, I've grown to think that caring for others gets you mistreated and disrespected. As I grow, I struggle more with this one thing than any other issue I have. I've come to think- it's not that it's just coming out in me but rather that He is making me more aware of it so that He can cleanse me of it. And if there's anything I do know, I cannot change my heart. These ugly things so deep inside of me are in dire need of a deep cleansing from the inside-out that only God can give.

Yesterday, I didn't get my way about something after feeling I'd spent the day prior to that settling for things someone else wanted. I really beat myself up over it. It's like it goes against everything inside of me to feel overlooked. As a means to justify my frustrations, I kept recalling times where I gave to someone but didn't get anything in return. And the more I tried to justify my being upset, the more He spoke to me about it. He reminded me that this life is a journey of dying to self, and that if I'm going to grow, my way has to go. I tried to drown out his voice with my stubborn sulking but He persisted. After a few minutes of this, I knew I had to accept what He was saying here.

Of course I had every reason to be upset if I were weighing against the world's standards, but due to the increasingly close relationship I'm experiencing with Him He just won't let me settle for those standards anymore.
Immediately after I ended my sulking, I said, "OK Lord, You're so right. Thank you for working with me on this. Please don't ever give up on me because of my stubbornness." No sooner than I'd ended my sentence, He gave me some incredible insight. And it boils down to this.
We expect to do things our way and then we wonder why He doesn't save us from the consequences. He gives us free will and we make our own choices, whether they are good or bad. But if He were to save us from all of the consequences of doing it "our way", He would be enabling us to continue to go our own way. Many of us would balk at the very idea of enabling a friend or family member to live out their life in a self destructive manner. So why do we expect this of Him?
This put a whole new perspective on understanding why we struggle and hurt so much. It makes sense to me in a way it never has before--and it was made real to me in a very personal way. Isn't it wonderful how He trades our junk for wisdom like this?

I know that I have to persist in my struggle with these feelings but I can tell you this: We were each made for more than these struggles. We were made to glorify Him but we can't do that on our own. He has to clean us up and that alone is a miracle. Our struggles will be around as long as we are in the flesh but if we focus on His ability and not our own there is hope. He is hope. We just have to accept it by accepting Him.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Conspiracy "Theory"

We live in a world of so much hatred and sin that being paranoid just goes with the territory of life. Things we think others might be thinking or doing against us are really taking place more times than not. And we're able to see these things in others not only because it's so common in our society because frankly our hearts are all so much alike. We all struggle with a messy heart, some to different extremes than others. You and I both know there isn't a pure heart in the world, except the one of God himself.

We balk at the very idea of a conspiracy in our society and we label it a mere "theory". In fact, evil and sin are so common in our world that we are far often dismissive of the very idea of conspiracy. Most of us have experienced a time or two where we've vocalized our concerns about an attack we felt on our lives or even our characters. Typically the person we express them to, in my experience, is dismissive of our legitimate concerns, and it seems to me that our society has become hardened to the extent of which Satan goes to in order to destroy any good in a person's heart.

I know this for a fact in my own personal life. As my heart longs for more of Him, the the heat from the battles in and around me get turned up a bit. Coincidence? Hardly. The Bible tells us that there are spiritual wars going on around us that we cannot see. His word warns us that Satan is hell bent on trying to stop us from giving God any glory. And since we are made for the mere purpose of glorifying Him, everything we do is prone to attack.

I hate to hear anyone, but especially a Christian, refer to the fact that people good. Have they not read the Bible? The Bible says there is no good in man's heart except that which God puts in us by His Holy Spirit. We are a rotten, wretched, mean-spirited, sinning race with sin in our minds and in our hearts non-stop. Have you ever stopped to analyze your thoughts against God's word and realized just how ugly most of them are? I have and the outcome was outright embarrassing and disgusting. I'm seeing so much ugliness in my heart as I continue to compare who I am against who He is.

Just when God begins to perform His miracles in me, Satan seems to take notice. More and more ugliness in me surfaces. I often wonder if I'll ever begin to come close to having a truly clean heart. But I am reminded that Jesus Christ died for us because we cannot do for ourselves what He can. His blood continues to pay for my sins daily, and sometimes hourly. We could have very well had a God who made us and stepped back to watch us for mere entertainment, but ours doesn't. His love for us is far more real and pure than any notion of love we could have. It's so amazing that we can't possibly wrap our tiny brains around it.

I'm convicted more and more that Satan does his best to keep us from sharing His love and His glory with the world. And the longer we refuse to accept and take notice, the more we'll get caught up in his tricks. I, for one, can play dumb anymore. I cannot claim ignorance or enjoy its bliss, if there is any truth to the old adage. Satan's increasingly at work around me and it's hard not to notice the fruits of his work. There's more selfishness, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness and drama in the lives of people who pose the mere risk of bringing any glory to our Creator than there is in those who resolve that He doesn't exist.

The Lord's spoken to my heart about this and i can't help but share it. It's time to wake up, pay attention and be aware of what's going on around you. We've been given the word and we won't be able to use the excuse that we didn't know better later. Satan's an expert at keeping his friends close and his enemies closer and if you don't believe me, try to honor God in some way and see if you get any new battles from it. I encourage you to stay awake to the matter and resist his snares. I'm having to learn to do the very same thing.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Narrow Path

As I was talking to a friend this morning, all bottled up with frustration from some other things that I silently refused to vocalize, the Lord used our topic to shed light on my unspoken frustrations. I suddenly had an image of cars lined up moving ever so slowly alongside an accident. The slow moving traffic was hosed up  as the drivers stretched their necks to see what was happening.

Immediately I began to see another image. This time it was of a car driving along a narrow road. The driver suddenly turned his focus to something else and veered off the road into the danger zone. I suddenly realized this is me. I was veering off the road meant for me by focusing on someone else's ways. Time to adjust my focus--again.

During that time, I heard the words "straight and narrow" and the word narrow began to stand out as though it were light up with flashing lights. Narrow in the moment meant a path that everyone else wasn't taking. It meant tight spots and long bouts where no human could be found, much less relate. It meant focusing on what lies ahead for me, and not on what others are doing. Matthew 7:14 was now more clear than ever.
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
To be honest, I had to look this verse up because I couldn't remember the exact words, or even the book in which it was found. As I began to look for it, I was lead to this one too.
Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. Matthew 7:4-5 ESV
These are all clear reminders of the danger we are in spiritually when we start watching others. When we shift our focus, we many times unintentionally adapt to their ways. I, for one, am most guilty of this. But the Bible clearly says that taking the straight and narrow path won't be easy, and that we'll endure many struggles from doing so. But for those of us who take it, the spiritual rewards are far greater than the price we pay in the flesh.

Although sometimes the truth is hard to take, this reminder is exactly what I needed in the moment. And as I think about it, the Lord is always so gentle, yet honest with me. I am so thankful for moments like this whereas no one else could've or would've spoken to me in such a firm, loving, obvious and honest way that leads me off the shoulder and back onto the road that I was meant to follow.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Strength in My Weaknesses

I struggle--- A LOT. I struggle to get my personal "preferences" out of the way so that I can be open to whatever God wants of me. I struggle to not look out for my own best interests. I struggle to see the best in others and to stay calm when the stakes get high. Mostly, I struggle to put to practice all that He tells me is righteous and holy. And if anyone can mess up the best of things, it's me.

I might make a lot of mistakes, but God is changing my heart daily. As a Christian I take comfort in knowing that I don't have to rely on my own strength and ability to get me through.

Today, I came back to work for the first time in three weeks due to business travel. While I was away and alone, it was easy to seek Him. He spoke to my heart about some things during that time, but I knew I had to put these things into practice when I got home. All the things I struggle with are tested when I'm in the place where I feel most comfortable.

To be honest, I was not looking forward to failing, as it is inevitable that I fail so regularly. For me, failing is like a daily cycle--I might as well accept that it's going to happen. Even so, I started my day with some events that figuratively screamed out some of my biggest shortcomings. It's tempting to get discouraged very quickly when we realize how much we fall short.

But God reminded me, "Do not get discouraged. Don't let Satan win. Don't focus on your struggles."

Now as a Christian, I suppose you'd expect me to tell you that I obey every time, on the first time I'm told. I suppose you'd think better of me if you thought I don't struggle much and my that heart is completely clean. But that's not the case. He literally had to speak to me about this over and over before I would accept His truths about the situations and move on. I was frankly far too disgusted with myself to think that I deserved any mercy, and I resisted His --at first.

But God suddenly took away the sorrow I'd started carrying.  

When I went to lunch, the young lady who works as a cashier was as chatty as usual. She was expressing her frustration with certain men. I admited that I am remarried in an effort to relate to her struggles. She seemed so surprised that I shared this with her that her face lit up. She said, "I'm no better than you, I've been married and divorced twice." The only word of encouragement I could offer her is that guys just think differently than we girls do. Our conversation didn't last but a couple of minutes at most. But before it was over she told me that she wants to do things right, if God gives her another chance. As I walked away she said in the most genuine tone I've ever heard, "Thank You for sharing that with me."

I didn't do anything. I didn't tell her any big secret. I didn't have any great advice to give her. I had just experienced a series of moments that left me feeling rather "weak" and exposed. But God used that short conversation to show me something. When we open up to others and share our struggles, He offers us strength while he uses those very struggles to heal someone else. Its not trivial, but it's also not always easy because sometimes I just want to clam up to the world in the midst of my hurt.

Everyone needs to be able to relate. We need to know that we're not the only ones to struggle with this or that.  So many times I battle the fear of being shunned for sharing my story. But God always reminds me that sin forms in the darkness and when we share the inner most part of ourselves, we allow the light He gives us to shine. That very light just might be what others need.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The "I" in Me

Dying to self seems to be the single most difficult thing to do in life. As a follower of Christ Jesus, my number one mission is to put myself aside and love others in ways that give only God the glory. But the truth is--putting myself aside is not an easy task. On any given day, things can be going perfectly well and I find some way to wedge my own needs and thoughts into a situation, thus ruining everything in MY own selfish way.

Think about it--if we are to carry out the commands of Christ, we have to pull our own selfish thoughts and desires out of the mix period. Even as I seek to do what's good in the sight of God, the number one thing that keeps me from following through is ME, myself and I. I have my own thoughts and my own "needs" but mostly these things are just desires since He's already given me what I need, if I will receive it.

Times when I put me aside, without selfish motives are the times He uses to benefit others as well as me the most. Isn't it amazing that when we do focus away from ourselves, he not only uses us but also blesses us the most? It goes against everything we as people are programmed to think. But then again, so do all of the other ideas and concepts that He teaches us through His word.

As believers, we are supposed to let our lights shine, but the ways in which we shine are those ways we love others no matter what they've done or who they may be. We have a duty to God to love anyone who may be hurting. We have a duty to love our spouses, kids, friends and family as well but it all requires us to put ourselves aside and love them in a godly way. How can we help someone through a hard time when all we're thinking about is ME ME ME? It's really hard to love someone in a godly way if you're always looking out for you. I find that I wedge myself into the slightest situation, no matter the topic, and everything pretty much goes sour from there. The entire point is lost once I involve ME.

God's word describes love quite differently from how we humans tend to look at it.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 1 Cor. 13:4
All these years I've been programmed to think that I have to insert Me into everything. This selfish mindset done nothing but set in motion more bad habits that need to be broken. I think to some extent or another we all struggle with the balance of "I" and our culture isn't helping matters by encouraging us to focus on our selves. But no matter what our culture says, Our God has spoken. He requires certain things of us if we do in fact believe in Him. It's assumed that we'll trip and fall alot because we in the flesh are like babies spiritually.  Eventually babies grow and have to learn the hard knocks of life, although hopefully not all of them will come the hard way.

In the Christian life, it's understood that we have to be broken. Spiritual growth begins with brokenness. Brokenness is nothing more than accepting that it's not about us, that we're going to fail and that we can only get it right if we involve Him in out lives. Our brokenness is intended to lead to a mindset change--and that's exactly where we learn to change our focus from "I" to "Him". It's been my experience that I have to practice something a thousand times more or less before it starts to come natural. Since there is so much "I" in me, I can't turn  my focus or the old habit creeps back in.

He loves a broken spirit because this is one who isn't proud. If I'm not broken, I'm working on my own and taking full credit throughout the way. If I'm not broken, I'm not able to love others, especially those who aren't like me. Furthermore, if I'm not broken, my focus is off. I'm looking at it me and not at Him. During these times, I'm more likely to have more I's in me

I pray that He will continue to renew my mind and my heart, which  will in turn help me to focus on Him and forget about me more each day. This way, I can love those I'm meant to love more effectively.