Thursday, July 15, 2010

A detour into Malachi

In the past I have done the "read the Bible through in one year" thing, several times. Last year I got bogged down in Judges and Kings -- I was in a depressed place in life and all the nastiness going on in those books just finally got to me. So I decided that, for awhile, I would stick to the New Testament, with occasional forays into Psalms, Proverbs and Isaiah (I love the book of Isaiah, especially at the end). So I've been reading in Luke, but when I went to pick up my Bible today, it fell open to Malachi, chapters 3 and 4, and there was a LOT of underlining there, so I decided to see what I had underlined.

Good stuff!

The couple of things that really stood out to me today were:
Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.
"But you ask, 'How do we rob you?'
"In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse — the whole nation of you — because you are robbing me.

Well, then! God has a way of being straight to the point, and He sure is in this verse! We try to keep up with tithing every month, not because it's a "law" but because we want to honor God and thank Him for being so very generous with us. But there are months when we're kinda late putting the tithe money into its special account. And months when we don't spend it all (we give a portion to our church, then use the rest for specific ministries we give to monthly, and then whatever is left over we use for special needs that come up -- giving to Haitian earthquake relief, giving extra, etc., as long as it's a Christian organization). I know God isn't going to zap us for being late or whatever, but I take the "giving back to God" thing very seriously, so I don't like messing with it. God is very clear in this passage that He will richly bless those who give back to Him, but those who neglect this important aspect of worship will be cursed. Not eternally -- those of us who belong to Him are safe from that -- but we sure won't receive the blessings that He wants to abundantly pour out on us. (This is not a "prosperity gospel" line of thought, BTW. God's blessings may not be material, they may be spiritual instead, or whatever way He chooses.)

The other verses that stood out to me were 3:16-17:
Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name. "They will be mine," says the LORD Almighty, "in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him."

My favorite part of that is "the LORD listened and heard." I mean, stop and think about it -- God LISTENS to those who fear Him! ("Fear" here means a very powerful respect, like we hopefully have toward our own fathers, if they are worthy -- and God is definitely worthy! It doesn't mean "be afraid of," in the sense that we would fear Freddy Kruger.) God cares about every aspect of our lives. He listens when we talk to Him, but He also listens when we talk ABOUT Him. He likes to hear what we have to say about His faithfulness, His love, His compassion, His mercy, His salvation, etc., etc., etc. It's important to Him that we talk to each other about Him. Not only is that an act of worship, but it's an act of encouragement, of uplifting. It's an act of faith, too, when we're stuck in a place we don't like but we still talk about Him to each other, reminding each other of all He has done in our lives, of the amazing ways He works, of the beauty of His creation, all of that and more.

This is an easy one for me, because 1) I love to talk, and 2) I really love to talk about Jesus. I'm glad I have family and friends I can talk to about Him, those who understand and who "click" with what I'm saying, those who talk back to me about Him and what He's doing in their lives, what He means to them.

And I LOVE it when God reminds us in His word that we are HIS! That is the most beautiful affirmation ever.

So, as you go about your life today, remember to talk with other believers about the Lord, about how much you love Him, about all the many ways He has blessed you and protected you and helped you through life's junk. He is worthy of our praise all day long, whether it's through "official worship" (praise songs, praise Scriptures, etc.), or "just" by reminding each other of His total awesomeness.

His richest blessings be upon you today!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Asleep in the light

Today I read Luke 9:28-36, the story of Christ's transfiguration. (A quick aside -- I usually prefer using the name "Jesus" over the name "Christ." For some reason saying "Christ" sounds like I'm using His last name and is less personal! lol) Of course, being a Christian I've read/heard this story a billion times: Jesus goes up the mountain with Peter, James and John (his best mates, as it were), Jesus gets all shiny-glowy and Moses and Elijah show up. They have a chat about the fact that Jesus is going to be coming Home soon, the Best Mates suddenly realize what's going on, Peter says some lame things (as he typically does), God speaks, and the show's over.

Despite my flippant re-telling, it was a pretty amazing moment, I'm sure! You have to wonder if sometimes this didn't happen when nobody was around, when Jesus was praying. Did some of the Old Testament bigwigs typically show up to discuss how things were going with Jesus? It's an interesting thought.

So, anyway, yeah, the story is all about Jesus revealing his glory to earthly people. And it's about how they/we don't get it a lot of the time. And it's about God once again verbally letting humans know who this Jesus guy really is. And it's about how the Glory Moments in our lives are usually pretty short-lived.

So I thought it was kinda interesting that the verse that stood out to me today was verse 32: "Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory ..." That doesn't seem like it would be a "standout verse," does it?

But when I read it, I thought, yep, that's us. Or at least it's me. I spend a lot of my time being "spiritually sleepy" -- kinda sluggish, just wanting to be comfortable and left alone, really (not by Jesus, but just not having to get involved in too much). I get complacent, and I forget Who I'm traveling with. And then occasionally I wake up and when I do, boy do I see His glory and realize exactly who it is I'm traveling through this life with! On those altogether too rare occasions, Jesus radiates such glory it's enough to rock me back on my pins. Mind-blowing. Earth-shaking. And incredibly, incredibly humbling. He is the King of Glory, really. He is majestic, powerful, brilliant, scary as all get-out. And He is loving, compassionate, welcoming, all at the same time.

One of my favorite Bible verses is in Hebrews (Hebrews is another one of those totally amazing books), Chapter 2, verse 3: "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word." Don't you love that? "The radiance of God's glory." Think about it for a minute.

There's a song by Tree63 that says, "He is the answer to the question, He is the cure for the infection, He is all He says He is; He is the absolute reflection of holiness and true perfection, He is all He says He is." (Awesome song, it really rocks out, and that is important to me, lol.)

So, if I could just stay awake long enough to let this incredible glory-ness of Jesus shine into my life for more than two seconds at a time, think what that would do! Just think what that constant realization of just who it is I really follow would do to my life! I can't even begin to imagine the ways it would change me.

But, alas, I'm comfortable being asleep most of the time. It's kinda cozy, kinda easy. Well, way easier than walking around in God's glory. And how totally sad is that?

Lord Jesus, please wake me up! Please keep me awake! Forgive me for being so comfortable here in my "asleep" state, forgive me for not wanting to make much of an effort to wake up. Please remind me over and over of how glorious You are, of WHO you are, and let that knowledge and that experience change me into the person you want me to be. Help me to want that above all things, Lord! In all honesty, Jesus, I think that's gonna be hard work on both our parts, but please never give up on me, never give up on making me who You want me to be. I like to be comfortable, Lord. Please help me want to be like you more than I want to be left alone to be asleep.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Being deliberate

So today I thought I would "be deliberate" in my Bible reading -- as in Phil Joel's "deliberatePeople" website/idea. It's just basically choosing a "standout verse" in your daily reading and journaling about it. He has a specific reading plan that I followed for a couple of years, but this year I'm more or less "meandering" through the Bible, mostly the New Testament. (Does it make me a bad Christian if I admit that I find most of the Old Testament depressing? It's important stuff, of course, and you can't just say, "Oh, I'm all about the New Testament, the Old is passe," or whatever. But sometimes I just can't read it day after day, especially in, like, the book of Judges or Kings. I do, however, absolutely LOVE Isaiah.)

Anyway, so I read Luke 9:1-17. In this passage Jesus empowers his disciples and sends them out to preach and heal, and also there is the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Of course, there is a ton one could write about these two stories, but what struck me today was that Jesus didn't just want the gospel preached -- he also cared about the people's physical needs.

So I have a couple of standout verses: v. 2: "... He sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick." And also v. 13: "You give them something to eat."

Jesus easily could have just sent the disciples to do nothing but preach. And He could also have just sent the crowd home to eat. The Bible doesn't mention whether Jesus resumed preaching after they all ate, or whether they ate and went home. So I can't say for sure whether He wanted them fed so they could listen some more, or simply because He had too much compassion on them to let them continue to be hungry. However, based on what I've read in the Bible and what I personally know about Jesus, I imagine He just didn't want them going hungry that evening.

I love all this, and I think it says a lot about the God we serve. He definitely cares about our souls more than anything else. But He also knows we are human beings living in the here and now, and that we have physical needs in our lives that need to be met. I have often heard ministries that feed people, that go into communities and help the poor, heal the sick, etc., say that you have to meet the physical needs of the people before you can set about meeting their spiritual needs. It only makes sense -- hungry people, sick people can't concentrate much on the "esoteric" stuff until they are filled and healed (or at least in a more comfortable place physically speaking).

But I think that, even beyond the sort-of "ulterior motive" of helping people so they can enter the Kingdom (which is, of course, the most important thing), Jesus just loves to help people. He loves to reach into our worlds, into our hurt, and show us His love and compassion. He loves to wrap His arms around us and love on us! From experience I know He doesn't always choose to heal or to lift us up out of our circumstances, choosing rather to carry us through the difficult times instead of just making them go away. Personally, I would rather He always just took the tough stuff away before I had to endure much of it. It takes a lot of struggle sometimes to get to the place where, by faith, I accept that He's doing something I don't understand and then relax and let Him do His stuff. That's when He really shows that the spiritual is more important than the physical. But I'm glad there are all those times in Scripture where He shows us that He cares about the physical aspects of our lives, too. I'm glad He's a God whose love is so all-encompassing, who is all about compassion, and who never wants to just leave us where we are to get by on our own. That's when it's so obvious that God is our "Abba" (daddy), that Jesus is our brother, that the Holy Spirit is our comforter.

Yeah. I like that.

So, on another note, I have discovered the most hilarious, true, often uplifting and always interesting blog called "Stuff Christians Like." You should check it out. It is SO us!

Blessings for a beautiful day!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

More of the same, sorta

So I'm probably beating a dead horse, but since I'm still struggling and trying to sort out my life right now, I need to write about what I'm feeling and struggling with.

And, basically it's this: I'm incredibly frustrated with my spiritual life right now. I'm too tired to be "actively growing" in my relationship with Christ, physically, emotionally, and spiritually right now. I don't want to be like this, I really want to be growing closer to Him and keeping my eyes on Him instead of on my own self and my problems, but in all honesty it's just hard to look up right now. When you're sick a lot (or at least this is true for me), it's hard to look past yourself and how awful you're feeling. It's not a whiny "poor, pitiful me" kind of deal, it's more like being beaten into the ground and not being able to look up. (I just spent a really nasty week with something called "ischemic colitis" which causes lower abdominal pain and passing blood -- not fun, and I mean, seriously, what is with all these stupid illnesses coming one after the other?) I want to move past all this and be able to get back into Bible study and be really praying for others and all those things that are important to me (as well as to God!), but I just feel so stuck, like, as I've said before, wandering in the wilderness and I can't quite figure out how to get back on the pathway. I just seem incapable of focusing on deep stuff right now.

So, okay, I should just "rest in God's love" then until this season passes and I can crawl up out of the pit again. But I can't even seem to do that. I know in my heart, in my head, in my soul that God loves me. But right now I can't FEEL it very often and that makes it darned hard to "rest in His love." And I halfway feel like I'm abusing the gift of God's grace because I need it so darn freakin' much. Which is silly, but I grew up in a pretty legalistic church, and even though I have begun to realize that it's not about rules with God, it's about His unconditional grace, I still feel like it's possible to take advantage of that grace (in a bad way) and use that as a sort of excuse, or that I'm cheating to just depend on that and not be more actively doing things. Like right now, with all this sickness in my life, I feel like I should be thinking this: "God is refining me right now. I may not like how He's doing it, but I can trust that He knows what He's doing, that He is doing whatever it is He's doing for my ultimate good and that I can just let go and trust in His love and in His ways." Voila, right? Resting in His love. But I'm not there right now. I spent the better part of March yelling at God about the strep, then finally got over that and realized I do need to just trust Him, but even though I'm not mad at Him anymore and I have a certain level of trust, I am definitely not to the "Oh, goodie, this means I'm being refined and am growing as a human and in my trust in God" stage. I'm pretty much in an exhausted, beaten into the ground, boy-would-I-like-to-give-up, God-I-can't-feel-You-and-I-desperately-need-to phase.

I also have a lot of things I need to forgive, and as I've mentioned before, I have no idea how that works with some of the people and things I need to forgive. I am just totally clueless how to make that work, how to do it. My pastor says I just need to forgive them because I know how much God has forgiven me. But the sad thing is, I don't have a strong sense of just how much He has forgiven in my life. I've been a pretty good person all my life, with a couple of exceptions that were way back in the past, and I'm not connected to just what Jesus has done for me that way. I hate that! I feel so ungrateful and shallow. But I think for people who haven't had gigantic, horrible episodes of sin in their lives, who have pretty much just committed what the world thinks of as "small" sins, it's hard to grasp that it doesn't matter the magnitude of the sin, ALL sin is equally abhorrent in God's eyes, and even just one "tiny" sin is all it takes to separate us from God and make us unworthy. Nobody is good enough to please God and have a relationship with Him. The only way we can do that is by accepting the work Jesus did for us on the cross. It's only because God sees us through the "curtain" of Jesus' atoning blood that we can come to God and have a relationship with Him. It's kinda like God puts on His "Jesus glasses" to look at us. Fortunately, the "Jesus glasses" are permanent. But what I'm trying to say here is that I am no better than anyone else, and so I should be able to realize that and forgive others as God has forgiven me.

Except that that's really, really hard.

Guess that makes me a pretty selfish person.

Anyway, those are the things I'm struggling with today. Among lots of other stuff.

I'm too tired to work on anything today. Deeply, face-down on the battlefield covered in blood kind of tired. I so hope God understands that.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Well, it has been awhile!

I've been through a lot in the last several months, mostly health-wise, so I haven't really kept this blog up as I had hoped.

As far as I know, none of my health issues are life-threatening, but they have certainly screwed up my quality of life to the point that I am at the absolute bottom emotionally and spiritually. I am overwhelmed, tired, frustrated and depressed. I feel as though I have lost myself. Not as in "eternally damned" lost (I believe my salvation is secure), but as in "wandering in the wilderness" type of lost. I feel so far away from God right now, and I also feel like my mind is just not in a good place. It's hard to work on your spiritual life, your relationship with Christ, when you can't think well, and when you do think it's not incredibly positive or rational. I sorta feel like I need to start over, just need to get back to basic truths. I haven't been to a Bible study in years (partly because of my chronic fatigue, partly because the praise team I'm on rehearses during Sunday morning Bible study, partly because our pastor stopped teaching Sunday Bible study, and he was awesome ... the guy who took over was not). I feel disconnected from all the things (spiritually) that are so important to me.

My pastor (who my family is good friends with) sent me an e-mail the other day asking if I had ever forgiven the boyfriend who emotionally abused me in my mid-20s. I have, of course, but it never "sticks" well. I'll think I've forgiven him and then something from that era will pop into my head and I'll have to wrestle with it again. It's not as bad as it used to be, and I've had counseling for it, but I don't think I'll ever get over the scars it left. I think I don't fully understand what forgiveness means. In my head, it includes absolution, as in "That's okay, don't worry about it." Or as in "I know you didn't mean it." This guy left me broken, bruised, shattered and scarred emotionally in such a deep, all-consuming way that I could never possibly say, "All is forgiven" in that smiley, happy way that I think of when I hear that phrase. I need to know how to forgive what he did to me while knowing I can never absolve him of destroying my life at that time. Something I need to work on.

So ... I know I need to do something, find some way of re-connecting with God. I'm just so tired, and tired of the struggle. I have begged God over and over to heal me, yelled at Him because He didn't, then repented of all that because I know He is God and He is sovereign, and His ways are not my ways. But I think that, in all that struggle, I got so beaten down that I can't even get back to all the truths I know about God. I mean in terms of "feeling" them, in grasping them all and applying them to my life. I am burnt out from the struggle. I definitely love God and trust Him as my savior, still. I just don't know how to get out of this wilderness.

I am so thankful for the verses that remind us that, even when we are faithless to Him, He remains faithful to us. (I don't know where to find that verse -- I tried, but didn't find it searching under the phrase "he remains faithful." But it is a real verse, my mother quoted it to me just a couple of days ago and I know I've seen it.) I need heaps of His grace right now!

Edited to add: Well, duh, I just went and read the post I made before this one -- I didn't mean to almost exactly repeat a lot of what I said there. Maybe I should read my last post before I post a new one!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What the heck?

I am going through one of the toughest (if not THE toughest) spiritual crises of my life right now. I'm having a hard time with God right now, I'll be honest. Not walking away or ditching my faith by any stretch, but definitely wrestling with a lot of things.

I have had a recurring bout of Strep Throat since January 30. It is now March 25, so this is almost two months. I'm on round four of antibiotics (which end tomorrow). The pattern has been that I do antibiotics, and within two days of finishing them the strep is back. Since I take my last of this round tomorrow, I may be actively sick again by the end of the weekend. Or, since I also had a Bicillin shot last week, I may not. Who knows?

This has really pushed my faith to the edge. I know, to some of you it may not sound like much, but I essentially have NO LIFE whatsoever now. It was a pretty "thin" life before the strep, since I'd been sick a lot this fall/winter, and even when I'm not sick I'm exhausted. The fall/winter sickies have been going on for three years (mostly chronic sinus infections), and the exhaustion has been around in varying degrees for probably nearly 20 years.

And I'm tired of it. As the lyrics to one of Phil Joel's songs says, "She was getting sick and tired of being sick and tired." Yep. That'd be me.

What I'm struggling with is what in heaven's name God is trying to accomplish in all this. He will not heal me (at least He hasn't yet). I've had the elders of my church over to anoint me with oil and pray over me -- which, at least on the surface, accomplished absolutely nothing. Well, it did shake my faith pretty hard when nothing happened. In my limited human capacity for understanding this makes no sense at all.

I know, I know, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding ..." I'm trying. I really am. More than anything I want to be one of those people who says, "Lord, I don't like this, but I trust that You have a reason and a purpose for this suffering and I will bow my will to Yours and accept it." I haven't reached that place yet. Right now I'm at the, "Lord, I know You have a reason and a purpose for this ridiculous suffering I'm going through right now, but I'd sure as heck like to know what it is because I certainly can't see what's positive or good about it" stage. To me this chronic illness thing is ridiculous suffering. It isn't noble, it doesn't help anybody out, in fact, it just makes me a burden to my family. I feel so sorry for my husband -- he's always so stressed out from work and his own health issues, and then he has me to deal with into the bargain. Aidan is too busy with his own stuff most of the time to be actively inconvenienced by my poor health, but I do feel sorry for him that he has a mother who spends 90% of her time lying on the couch feeling rotten. I'm not suffering for Christ in any way I can see. And I'm not exactly growing closer to Him through this, either, at least not right now. So it's hard to see the purpose in this stupid chronically poor immune system I have.

I'm struggling with God feeling so far away. As I said, I haven't walked away from Him, I've been trying to keep up a good relationship with Him, but it's very hard to do when you feel too physically bad most of the time to make much effort. And there's major brain fog involved, too, so Bible study/reading isn't very productive. I know it sounds like I'm having a giant pity party, but I'm having trouble seeing God as very "fatherly" right now. I want so badly for Him to draw near to me and be comforting, but I don't feel that very often. Mostly He just feels distant.

I know that my life is MUCH better than an awful lot of people's. I don't have cancer (that I know of), or any other debilitating illness. I'm not in the throes of grief over losing someone close to me, thankfully. I have a nice house, my husband has his job, my teenager is a good kid. (It almost scares me to write that stuff down ...!) And I am exceedingly grateful for these things. But I am not able to go and do things "normal" people can do (like grocery shop or sing on the Praise Team at my church), and that's difficult.

I know God is sovereign. I know He has a perfect will, and that He knows what is best for me. I know He loves me and I know that "all things work together for good for those who love the Lord ..." So I'm holding on. Some days I hold on with everything I have, other days I don't have much to hold with. I have struggled with a killer migraine today and that has made it incredibly hard to hold on. I have thought several times about ending my life, but I know that would destroy my family and because I love them better than I love myself, I am sticking around for them. But, oh, some days that is hard. Some days that is incredibly, amazingly hard.

So I'm choosing to be a person of faith. I will not walk away from God, no matter how hard the going gets. But that doesn't mean I like where I am right now, and that doesn't mean I won't have times when I struggle to understand God's purpose for me, when I struggle to even feel the love He has for me. That doesn't mean I can always say, "I know God is doing what's best." Yes, I know He is, but right now I really, really don't understand it.

As Job said, "Though He slay me, yet will I praise Him." Some days that is a true sacrifice of praise. (He definitely deserves it, though -- that I still recognize!)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Well, it's been awhile!

I don't know that there's any particular reason I haven't posted here in awhile. Maybe I haven't felt "wise" enough or something! lol

As always, with all of us, still trying to figure out my own Christian walk. We've decided (okay, I decided for us -- my family) that we're going to go through Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest this year. If you haven't heard of it, it's a very challenging devotional written by a very brilliant minister (Wikipedia calls him "a prominent early twentieth century Scottish Protestant Christian minister and teacher"). I say brilliant because his writing is a bit difficult! lol There is an "updated" version of the book out now, in more "friendly" modern English, but I prefer the older one. It makes you stop and think more. Anyway, into Day 12, and it's definitely challenging my faith! One of the hardest concepts I'm dealing with right now is "my obedience to God will affect others" and not always in a "happy" way. This is tough for me in a number of ways, but especially since I'm dealing with pre-Empty Nest syndrome. Aidan will be going off to college in the Fall of 2011, and so far we don't know where that will be. Up until recently the University of Texas was his #1 option. He says it still is, but suddenly he's looking at out-of-state universities, too (partially due to the "encouragement" of a teacher, which makes me mad, and means I have to deal with that issue -- the anger -- too!). I don't want him to go out-of-state. I want him right here in Texas, and I want him CLOSE, so UT is my first and only choice for him! However, it might not be God's choice. And even more than I want my own way, I want Aidan to be in God's will, so if that means the University of Chicago or Arizona or whatever, then that's where he needs to go. Even if it rips my heart out. And it will, trust me.

So -- should God want Aidan somewhere other than UT, and Aidan obeys Him (which I most definitely want him to do), it will certainly affect me, it will HURT me (which is the main meaning of the "affect" part of this concept). Not in a pouty, bitter way, but in a heart-ripped-out-of-my-chest way. I like this kid! I don't want him to be so far away from home that we'll only see him two or three times a year! I want him to come home every weekend for me to wash his clothes! lol But, no, as I said, more than I want that, I want him to be Where and Who (whom?) God wants him to be.

Bleah. Life gets so complicated! Sorting through my faith and working it out gets so complicated. I really do wish sometimes that I could be more "simple" in my faith -- just be the kind of person who can peacefully and contentedly say, "God is in control," and just go with that. But, no, I have to fight God, fight myself, argue, whine, wheedle, beg, etc. That's not a very peaceful way to be. This whole "dying to self" concept -- yeah, NOT an easy thing, and I'll be working on it for quite some time, I know. Which is annoying, because that means God will continue to test me on it. He does that with everyone, I'm sure, no matter how "simple" they may be in their faith. I'm sure even Billy Graham gets tested on this. But wouldn't it be lovely if I could just step back a moment, take a deep breath, remember God's continual faithfulness to me and my family, and say, "Lord, You're in charge and I trust You." Yeah, TRUST. Man, that's a difficult word!

So, here it is 2010 and I don't think I've made much progress spiritually over the last several years. But I do want to! I'm hoping this devotional will stand me face-to-face with myself in such a way that I get over myself and start really, truly living for Christ. Prayers would be much appreciated! ... :-)