Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Wishing for Things I Don't Have

I catch myself quite often wishing that I had the gifts or blessings belonging to someone else. As I begin to hear myself, I realize that I sound so much like an unthankful child. You know the type, the ones who are insatiable. They have so much, yet all they see is what they don't have. I'm guilty--and it's high time I'm more aware of this habit and more intentional about being thankful.

I do it more often that I like to admit. I look at other's talents, and I weight them against my own. I begin to wish I had musical abilities or a different writing styles among other things. I don't crave the material things as I do the gifts and talents, but it's all the same isn't it? It's all basically covetousness.
"You must not covet your neighbor's house. You must not covet your neighbor's wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor." Exodus 20:17 NIV

It seems that I am one of those who cannot dodge the potholes on the road in my journey. I have to hit every single bump and hole in order to learn the lesson that comes with hitting it.

The sad part is that I was blind to it for a long time. Although my intentions were good because I genuinely wanted these things to better serve my God, I was missing the whole point in worshiping the one true God. You cannot serve Him with an unthankful heart...you will eventually hit a wall. The whole point in serving Him is to honor Him for all He has done and all that He is. If you're not happy with what He's given you, how can you serve Him with your whole heart?

If we want to be close to God, we are to serve with a thankful heart. And if you have a thankful heart, you use whatever you have to the full extent to glorify Him. He's given us each unique gifts and He wants us to use them. The very best way we can honor Him is to be who we are in Him--meaning we use what He's given us because it's enough. It's enough because He says it's enough. He doesn't want nor need us to bring anything more to the table. Frankly, He doesn't need us at all. I'm just thrilled that He would save me, much less that He might use any aspect of my life to be further glorified.

Everything we do must be done with intent, even if it's just a matter of thankfulness. If you set out to do it, chances are --you will. Will you join me in setting a goal to be more thankful about the gifts He's given you?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Stuck in a Rut

Why is it that I know what to expect but then when those expectations become reality, I am taken by surprise? I know that certain things are to be expected because of experience, yet I fail to prepare myself to respond any differently.

I think many of you know what I mean. We know to expect something based upon experience, yet somehow we really don't expect it to happen. We know to expect certain actions and reactions from people around us, but then when it happens we walk away like a wounded dog tucking our tail and licking our wounds. We know certain actions have certain consequences but it never fails--they still take us by surprise.

A good friend recently sent this to me after seeing me struggle over the same old thing for the two thousandth time. I think this was my hint. :-)
By Portia Nelson
Chapter I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost... I am hopeless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
Chapter II
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in this same place.
But it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
Chapter III
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there.
I still fall in... it's a habit... but,
my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
Chapter IV
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter V
I walk down another street.

Perhaps I wouldn't be so prone to falling apart over the negative not-so-surprises if I "planned" for them. It sounds silly I know, but hey I'm a planner and I don't always adjust well to spontaneous events because they disrupt my great plans, as silly as they might be. Many of us have to actually plan to do things differently, it doesn't just happen.

Several studies have been done on habit changing and each have proven that it takes repetition and time to change a habit. Who we are and how we react are part of our wiring. And whether we're wired-up by our parents, other family members, our environment or a combination of factors is irrelevant because they're all flawed. That being said--no wonder we have no chance of obtaining perfection in this lifetime.

It seems to me that as Christians, everything we do hinges on faith and if we're easily shaken then the first thing we should question is our faith.  As I search myself for reasons why I fall into the same old trap, I realize I could spend a lifetime on the "why's" but I can't pray enough for a renewed mind and an upright heart. I believe that Jesus Christ came to save me from death but even as I grow in faith, I find holes in my faith. And I think all of us are like this...we have faith but as we face hard times we are forced to face the unbelief in our hearts.
"The father instantly cried out, 'I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!'" Mark 9 :24 NIV
Make no doubt about it, hard times can be brought on by ourselves or satan himself but God uses them to help us grow. But it's up to us to accept the things He shows us and use them moving forward. It's up to us to take the insight He offers and accept it as a good gift. I know I wouldn't like to give someone a gift just to see them trash it or walk all over it. But many times that's what I do when He shows me something new, and I doubt it's just a problem that I face.

Nonetheless, this blog serves to be more of a reminder to myself than anything else. When I face hard times, there are somethings I need to remember. First, I must have faith no matter how hard it gets. Next, I need to pray that He close the gaps in my faith. I must also treasure the insight He offers like a good gift--because it is. I must use it over and over and never assume that it has an expiration date. Finally, I must be willing to change and the only way to do that is to stop driving in my own ruts. The deeper they get, the harder they are get out of.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Religion v. Christ

I was pulling out of the parking lot at work one sunny afternoon and, as usual, my mind swarmed with thoughts about the day as well as some harsh thoughts of certain others. I quickly heard His firm warning. As He began to speak to my soul, I became like a child being scolded by her parent and I was stopped dead in my tracks because His message to me was so clear and so justified. He warned me: In your search for me, be careful that you don't wind up religious instead.

In our society the word "religious" suggests that one has faith. I hear the word used most commonly to reference people who cling to a set of cultural beliefs put in place by man. As I read through God's Word more and more, I am convinced that there is a clear difference in being religious and being a follower of Christ.

Following Christ is completely opposite of being religious. Jesus was very hard on the Pharisees, and rightfully so.
“He replied, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules." Mark 7: 6-7
First of all, religion allows you hold to a certain set of rules, many of which weren't taken from the Bible. And those that were are generally twisted to some extent. The Bible refers to this as legalism. Legalistic people are quick to judge you and throw stones when you make a mistake or if you don't follow the same set of rules. They lie in wait, like a predator, hoping to catch you breaking some rule so that they can look good for calling you on it. They do not have mercy or compassion that Christ calls us to have.

Jesus basically told them that worship takes place in the heart, not in their rules. I won't deny that following Him leads us to live an upright life and that we should encourage others to do the right things. But more times than not those who seem to have it all together are the very ones that have the hardest of hearts. And a hard heart is far from Him. He calls us to be merciful and compassionate no matter what. These traits are one of the markings of a believer- and none of us have these traits naturally. He calls us to look beyond the obvious, and offer up understanding to others. Following a set of man-made rules won't get you to heaven because man doesn't get to call the shots.

"He went on: What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” Mark 7: 21-23
Religion allows you to cling to your creature comforts and strongholds. Strongholds are those messed-up ideas you have in your head that do nothing but hold you from grasping who He is, serving Him and dying to the flesh. It's plain stubbornness and stubbornness against God only hurts you because you cannot cling to God with one hand. You have to let go of everything else you're holding onto in order to truly know Him. We all have strongholds but as we're willing, He removes them.

For example, I have been subjected to only Baptist views in my lifetime and have been taught that the ways of other religions are wrong. I built some pretty high walls in my heart, and they hindered me for a long time. God used my dear husband to inspire me to let go of those ideas, let down my walls and be open to WHATEVER God shows me. If I could offer any one piece of advice, it would be to let go of your preconceived ideas about Him and let Him, and Him alone, show you who He is. You will not be disappointed, I promise.

My husband and I were discussing some struggles this morning, and those struggles stemmed from things we see in churches. Churches are full of sinners, because we are not yet made perfect. But because we are all still imperfect, we tend to discourage one another with our haughty attitudes, judgments and the boxes we try to fit God into. God isn't going to fit in anyone's box. He is far more magnificent than any human mind can fathom. We can't possibly understand it all, but he doesn't ask us to. He does ask us to let go of everything else we cling to- whether it's something we're taught, other people or material items.

I encourage you to be cautious and watchful that you don't get religion in your search for God. When you seek Him, do so with all your heart and soul and ignore the limits people place on God and on each other. We must not focus so hard on other's limitations that we fall away. After all, people won't be judging us in the end.
"Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.'" Mark 8: 34-35

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Project: Application

Many people say they believe, but I can't help but wonder: Is everyone who claims to believe that Jesus is the Christ really going to heaven?

The Bible is clear that many will will proclaim to know Him yet very few actually do. In my own life, I struggle to apply the things He teaches me. My flesh puts up a mighty good fight and I must sadly admit that the flesh wins a lot more than it should. But at the same time, I have no question in my heart that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and came to set me free from the binds of sin. It seems to me that learning about Christ is the easy part. Applying it is a whole other story.

I pray and I read and I ask for wisdom. But then He shows me significant things and I stand there helplessly struggling to apply it. It reminds me of the first time in my own life that I was given makeup. I stood there wondering, "So, how do I apply this stuff?" Say what you will but finding knowledge is only half the quest. It's when you've learned to apply that knowledge to your own life situations that you become wise and hold great understanding. Frankly, not many people really have true wisdom and the mark of proof is in our lives.

Non-Christians and Christians alike look at those of us who are outspoken about our faith and they wonder why they should bother following Him at all. They see our shortcomings, because we have many. They see our faith and they wonder what is different about us if our faith in the man who is the Son of God doesn't make us perfect. It doesn't make sense to the person who hasn't been broken. It's nonsense to the one who hasn't seen himself in the light of God. Frankly we can't blame them. We grow frustrated with our own selves because we know the truth yet cannot even master the process of application.

I've struggled with this a lot lately. I've learned a lot in the past few months, but at times it seems I'm only seeing more and more ugly in myself instead of improvement. I beat myself up over it because I wholehearedly want to honor our great God who has delivered me over and over. I want people to see his miracles in me and I want them to know how much He loves us to care for us when we frankly do nothing to warrant it.

But in the end, it's not about me..it's about Him. It's not whether I ever master His teachings perfectly, but whether I persist in asking Him to change my heart because only a heart change can make us new. A heart change is a process, not an out-patient procedure. As Joanna Weaver said, "It takes a process to make a product."  The process requires that we fight to the end and never give up.
But the one who endures to the end will be saved. Matthew 24:13 ESV
Those words ring in my heart like church bells. When I read them, I wondered why they stuck in my head. I felt the need to read them over and over. But now I realize that He's been telling me all along to keep seeking, praying and thirsting. It's not whether we get it all right in this life, but whether we've endured 'til the end, and whether we've done so with faith in His abilities, not our own. Faith leads to a heart change and a heart change leads to obedience. Never make the mistake of thinking that our obedience is of our own doing.

He is faithful to those who love Him, and no matter how hard it gets--He is right there next to us. I pray that you will be fight the good fight and be faithful enough to endure 'til the end by seeking, thirsting and praying because only Jesus Christ can satisfy the needs of our souls. I hope you'll pray the same for me...