Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Shut Me Up!

Do you ever leave an event and find yourself rehashing a conversation, wishing you could take back some of those things you said? Maybe it was something foolish or silly. Maybe it was something unkind or thoughtless. Maybe your words revealed a negative attitude or bitter spirit you were hoping to hide.

One friend told me a story years ago of an interaction with her roommate and good friend. The roommate had been working hard to lose weight and came home excitedly announcing that she had dropped several jeans sizes. My friend, who worked at that particular store, said without thinking, "yeah, they keep adjusting the sizes. What used to be a four they're now labeling a two." Yikes! She was mortified to have said it out loud. Open mouth, insert foot, right?!?

A few times I've even found myself years later recalling a conversation that revealed my immaturity, selfishness, ignorance or whatever else and actually prayed that the other person would NEVER ever remember the conversation!

Its easy to see why the Bible has so much to say about our words and the tongue. I read through Proverbs a few weeks ago and was overwhelmed by all the wisdom regarding our words. Here are just a few examples:
"There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing" (12:18).
"Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin" (13:3).
"A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (15:1).
"A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit" (15:4).
"The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things" (15:28).
"Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends" (17:9).
"Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit" (18:21).
"She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue" (31:26).
The tongue is hard to tame, as James 3 clearly points out. In fact, "no man can tame the tongue" according to James 3:8. That tiny little body part is way beyond our human ability to control. Only God Himself can tame our tongues, and its only by the power of the Holy Spirit of God in us that we can have any control over the things we say.

Its this kind of Holy Spirit power that has been amazing me lately as I'm reading through the book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a prophet during the time of the Babylonian invasion of Judah. Ezekiel went to Babylon with the second group of exiles just a few years before the final destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the temple. God called Ezekiel to show the Israelites exactly what was going to happen in the next few years as His judgment would be poured out on His people and their holy city.

Ok, stick with me...even if you aren't into history, this is still REALLY interesting! When God called Ezekiel to be His prophet (1:2), God literally made him mute. Seriously. For seven years Ezekiel COULD NOT SPEAK. The only time he was able to talk during those seven years was to relay GOD'S SPECIFIC WORDS to the people.
"And I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be mute...but when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God.'" (Ezekiel 3:26-27)
My initial reaction was "Wow! How awful! I can't imagine not being able to say what I want or express what I'm thinking for seven years." But then I realized that this mute state was really a gift of great grace. Think about the freedom of this! Ezekiel didn't have to wonder if he was being too harsh or too blunt. He didn't have to apologize for an unkind or gossipy remark. He didn't have the regret of saying something foolish. He could say NOTHING but the specific words the Lord had given him. He gets his voice back after Jerusalem is destroyed according to Ezekiel 24:27 and 33:22. But until that day, he could be absolutely confident that every word he said was God-ordained and God-honoring.

And it made me think...this is exactly what we should be praying for! "We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us" (2 Cor. 5:20). We have been given "the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18). This means that our purpose in ministry is to reveal Christ to others so that they can be reconciled (or brought into a right relationship) with Him. Our mouths should be speaking truth at all times! As Christians our words should reveal the character of Christ and exalt the name of Christ. Each word should be honoring to Him. There is no room for "filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking" (Ephesians 5:4). There is no room for slander or gossip or thoughtless speech.

While Ezekiel's mute state might seem extreme, I think its exactly what I need! I need my mouth to be shut up so that I only speak words of encouragement, affirmation and godly wisdom. I need my mouth to be shut up to frivolous conversation or self-centered speech. I need to pray with the psalmist "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer" (Psalm 19:14).

Now, don't get me wrong. There is certainly a place for small talk or clean jokes. But even those must be motivated by a desire to glorify God and reveal Christ in every word we say. Even when I meet someone for the first time and engage in conversation about something insignificant like the weather, my goal should be to show this person the kindness and love of God. When I talk to a friend about something funny my kids did, my words should still reveal God's grace and work in my life. When I discuss politics or something going on in the news my words should bring glory to God and pour from a heart that longs to see sinners changed by His amazing grace!

And so, while we don't all have the luxury of God silencing our tongues like Ezekiel, we do have the power of His Holy Spirit to SHUT OUR MOUTHS when necessary. Let's surrender our tongues to Him!

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (Colossians 3:16).     

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Strength to Stand On

Sometimes I am amazed at how clearly and directly God's Word speaks to me. A few days ago I woke up feeling overwhelmed and completely defeated. Its a terrible feeling to wake up to a full day of responsibility feeling completely exhausted!

Here's what I wrote in my journal:
"I am feeling so defeated. And I know that is right where Satan wants me to be. Lord, please help me not to believe the lies of the enemy. I woke up this morning and almost immediately thought to myself 'you can't do it'. I'm supposed to [minister to a few people in difficult circumstances] and I thought 'How can you do that with the way you've been feeling?' Its just like a barrage of defeating thoughts. Lord please help me to stand strong. Help me to know and embrace the truth -- that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. God, I know that I am totally incapable on my own. But I have the power of Your very Spirit living inside of me! Help me to rely on you at ALL TIMES."

And then I remembered a passage I had read the day before in Proverbs 30:1b "The man declares, I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out." And I just confessed to the Lord that that was exactly how I felt. And I needed God to help me overcome and press on with what needed to be done.

And then I turned to a new book I'm starting (Ezekiel) and began to read. I found that Ezekiel had been called to a difficult ministry. Ezekiel was somewhat bitter about his difficult calling: "The Spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit, the hand of the Lord being strong upon me" (Ezekiel 2:14). And Ezekiel was totally overwhelmed by the ministry he faced: "And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days" (Ezekiel 2:5).

God was completely upfront about the difficulties Ezekiel would face, saying "Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house" (Ezekiel 2:6b-7). And then "go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them...whether they hear or refuse to hear" (Ezekiel 2:11).

Wow, talk about feeling defeated before you even begin! Ezekiel was basically told to share God's Truth, even though the people may completely refuse to listen to him. This was way more overwhelming than my little situation!

As I read, I saw what God did to sustain Ezekiel in this tough ministry assignment: twice in these early chapters Ezekiel says "the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet" (2:2; 3:24). And that is what I needed for my day. I needed the Spirit to set me on my feet.

In Matthew 28:20 Christ sends out believers, and makes a very important, comforting promise: "And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." This is crucial to remember in times of difficulty, defeat, anxiety or overwhelming tasks. The very Spirit of God is in us (who have repented of our sins, accepted Christ as Savior and Lord, and seek to follow Him); He will set us on our feet when we are unable to get up on our own; and He will stay with us always.

As God's Word spoke Truth to my heart and strengthened my soul, I had a fresh energy to face the day. Then, God poured an extra measure of encouragement into me with the words of Oswald Chambers in that days' devotion in My Utmost For His Highest:
"The one concern of a worker should be concentration on God, and this will mean that all the other margins of life, mental, moral and spiritual, are free with the freedom of a child, a worshipping child, not a wayward child. A worker without this solemn dominant note of concentration on God is apt to get his work on his neck; there is no margin of body, mind or spirit free, consequently he becomes spent out and crushed. There is no freedom, no delight in life; nerves, mind and heart are so crushingly burdened that God's blessing cannot rest. But the other side is just as true -- when once the concentration is on God, all the margins of life are free and under the dominance of God alone. There is no responsibility on you for the work; the only responsibility you have is to keep in living constant touch with God, and to see that you allow nothing to hinder your cooperation with Him."

 God's Word is so practical. It speaks to our daily circumstances and needs. What a treasure we miss when we fail to turn to it first each day! If you're reading this, but haven't yet read God's Word today, let me encourage you to stop everything and start somewhere in His Word. Perhaps in Ezekiel. Perhaps in John or Philippians or James. Let His words breathe fresh energy into you, and give you strength to stand.

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Question of Obedience

Bedtime is tough at our house. It seems like no matter how exhausted we think the kids are, somebody has picked that night to attempt an all-nighter!
They try the typical reasons for coming out after bedtime, like needing a sip of water, forgetting to give mom and dad a hug and kiss, or remembering at the last minute some important detail for school the next day.
But, they also seem to find ways to stay awake in their rooms, in their beds, even long after the light has been turned out and we assumed they were asleep.

Sometimes we discover they were up late playing with toys or playing with a sibling.

Sometimes we discover they were up late trying on shoes.

And sometimes we find them still reading waaaaaaay after we said "get to a stopping place and turn out the light". (I think we need to clarify "stopping place".)

And so, regardless of the situation, bedtime seems to be the time of most resistance.

In fact, a couple weeks ago we had a particularly irritating bedtime experience. Jon and I had already gotten in bed and for some reason the kids were still having a hard time settling down. (In their defense, it may have been on a night we have small group, which means we probably didn't get home until after 9:00pm). It was about 10:00pm and little people were still coming into our room to ask a question, tell us something, or find out why a sibling was out of bed and in our room.

We finally said (shouted?) "Get in bed right now. It is way too late for you to be coming out. NO MORE coming out of your room!"

There was a great scurry of feet, and then, I heard a quiet voice in the hallway say to the others in a loud whisper, "Let's not obey."

Seriously? Were we really going to have to have a serious moral discussion right now, at this time of night, when I was this tired? Yes. We were. Because a blatant desire to disobey like that cannot be ignored.

So, we had an important discussion about obedience and the heart.

But later I kept thinking about that statement, "Let's not obey."

And I wonder if that's what we sound like to God sometimes? Trying to whisper secretly in the hallway as if He doesn't know the state of our heart and our failure to surrender all to Him and walk in complete obedience.

How many times do we KNOW we're supposed to say something about our faith to someone, but our flesh seems to whisper "Let's not obey"?

How often do we KNOW that we are about to make an unwise or selfish decision regarding our time or finances, but our flesh seems to whisper "Let's not obey"?

How many times do we continue to argue our point with our spouse even after the Holy Spirit has pressed on our hearts that we should humble ourselves, take the low place and let it go? Yet something inside seems to say "Let's not obey".

How often do we sit on our couch or in front of our computers knowingly wasting our time on frivolous or silly entertainment while a pressing need or responsibility sits unattended to? We know what we should do in the moment, but a part of us is screaming "Let's not obey".

Because obedience can be tough. Sometimes it means sacrificing our own wants or desires to meet the needs of someone else. Sometimes it means setting aside our own dreams for a little while to help someone else succeed. Sometimes it means giving up good things to focus on that which is best. Sometimes it means uprooting ourselves from the familiar to follow God to a new and unknown place. Obedience always means trusting God enough to follow Him no matter what.

And Jesus was clear on this point in John 14:
"If you love me you will obey what I command" (v. 15).
"Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me" (v. 21).
"If anyone loves me he will keep my word" (v. 23).
"Whoever does not love me does not keep my words" (v. 24).
"but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father" (v. 31).

We are usually quick to say that we love God. But are we quick to obey Him? And if my obedience is the indicator of how much I love God, what is the TRUE state of my heart?

I think its important that we consider these questions. Obedience is not just something for children to learn. We ALL must learn to live in obedience. Praise God that He is patient with our weaknesses! Praise God that He gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us to live like Christ!

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God -- this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- His good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:1-2)

Lord help us walk in obedience to you...no matter what you ask us to do.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Asking the Deeper Questions

Several days ago I found this note written by one of my kids:
I absolutely love it when they are at that stage of writing phonetically! Reading it is like trying to crack a code and I always think its so cute how they spell the words.
But this particular writing was more than just cute. Here's the translation of what it says:
"I love God and Jesus. He is the Holy Spirit and God the Father and God the Son.
But I don't understand why did God create Satan? Cause He knew that Satan will tempt everyone."
I'll never forget back in college when I was leading a small group bible study with 6th grade girls. One of the girls asked me this very question and I was floored that someone so young would be thinking about something so deep!
Again, I'm amazed as my child ponders this same deep question.
And I wonder if I'm asking deep questions.
How often do I truly dig deeply into the wisdom of God's Word? Am I taking the time to contemplate on God and His Word long enough to even consider deep spiritual Truths? How often do I go beyond my daily Bible reading or my encouraging devotional book to really soak in, meditate on, and search through Scripture?
What's interesting about this child's note above, is he hadn't just written the note and then left it alone. He'd been asking this question of others. My sister told me he asked her when she was in town the other week. He is looking for an answer. And he was not going to be content until he got one.
Its sad to me that sometimes when I do ask a hard spiritual question, I don't really take the time to search out the answer. So often I don't really look into the passage deeply enough to get an answer to my tough question. I might wonder, but finding an answer is hard work. It takes time. It takes time sitting quietly in prayer. It takes time reading multiple verses, searching out cross-references and considering other translations. It takes time to find out what the reputable commentaries are and then read them. Its work to figure out how to use Bible study tools on the internet or in book form that explain the meaning of specific words or passages in the original language. It takes time to sit at the feet of solid Bible teachers and godly mentors who can explain God's Word to me accurately and well.
But today a six-year old has inspired me! Because you see, "I love God and Jesus" too. And I know what the Bible says about my Savior and Lord. But I don't want to stop there. I want to ask tough questions and consider deep spiritual Truth. I want to know Him and love Him more. I want to follow Him more quickly and carefully. I want to model Him more accurately. I want to spend the extra time it takes to dig deeply into His Word.
"For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding" (Proverbs 2:6).   

Monday, April 8, 2013

Do You Have a Bible?

For Easter this year we gave our kids Bibles. Honestly, there was a sale at Lifeway, and I've been wanting to get matching Bibles in the same translation for everyone in our family for a while now. A couple months ago I read something about the value of each child having their own copy of God's Word to hold and follow along (eventually...when everyone learns to read!) during our family Bible Study time.
 [Plus...lest you start thinking we're more spiritual than we are... we were wasting a lot of time with questions about why different Bibles had different words and which one was "right" and arguments over which girl got to hold the one pink Bible.]

The kids were really excited about their new Bibles! My seven year old loves following along as we read (especially since she now has the same translation and can follow more easily). My six year old was thrilled to have his own "real" Bible since up to now he only had children's storybook Bibles or New Testament only copies. My three year old was just excited to be included and to have a Bible in hot pink. She insisted on taking it to church Easter Sunday, and cried on the way this past week when she realized she had forgotten it.

I love that. I love that my kids are excited about God's Word. I want them to love it and read it regularly and submit their lives to the direction it gives. I love that my son peeked around my bedroom door after he found it in his Easter basket and said with shy excitement, "Thank you for my Bible. I love it. Is it the whole thing? All of it? Did you know it has golden pages on the side?"  

It was sweet. But as I watched their excitement I was reminded of something I'd seen recently. We receive a monthly magazine from a ministry (VOM) that serves Christians in other lands where persecution is heavy and faith in Christ is illegal. This ministry also distributes Bibles to believers who do not have a copy of God's Word. And I began to imagine how excited these Christians must be when they receive a Bible of their own.

If my children, who are surrounded by opportunities to freely hear, read and learn God's Word are excited about having their own copy, what must it be like for Christians who are desperately thirsty for a taste of God's sweet Words? What must it be like for a believer, who follows Christ at the risk of his very life, to hold in his hands the inspired Word of God?

I cannot even imagine the feelings of excitement, gratitude and longing that must rush over them. I think water probably tastes the best to someone who is desperately thirsty. And I wonder, am I desperately thirsty for God and His Word? 

I live in a culture that is fat with spiritual riches. We have no shortage of Bibles...in any translation, size, color or style we want. We have no shortage of Christian books on any subject we can dream up. We have no shortage of churches and parachurch groups and Christian bookstores and camps and retreat centers. If you have access to the internet, there are even more opportunities to listen to great Bible teachers, inspiring Christ-centered music, and read unending amounts of information about Christ and Christianity.     

And then I decided to see how many Bibles I have in my own home.

And I thought to myself, "No. I can't imagine what its like to be a follower of Christ but not have my own copy of God's Word." This stack includes various translations of the Bible, as well as a few children's storybook Bibles. This stack does not include the DVDs of the Jesus Storybook Bible in my van, or all the Bibles and commentaries Jon has in his office at church, or the Bible App he has on his phone. This stack doesn't include the commentaries and Bible studies I have on my shelf. Nor does it include the children's books that tell various individual Bible stories. It doesn't include the Bible software we have for our computer, or the various websites like Bible Gateway that offer all sorts of Bible info.

I live in a culture that is overwhelmed with opportunity to grow in the knowledge of God's Word and I feel fat. Gluttonous almost.

Don't get me wrong...I think it is good and wise to study God's Word seriously, using every tool available and considering various translations. We cannot get too much of the Bible into our hearts and minds.

But is it possible that we are hoarding? Filling up and fattening up spiritually, without any real drive to share our sweet Saviour and His Word with others?

What if I didn't have any of those spiritual growth tools listed above? What if I didn't have all those copies of God's Word pictured above? I would want someone to share! To tell me; to teach me; to pray for me.

Am I doing that for anyone else?  

Am I willing to go? Willing to give? Willing to pray?

Or am I so busy feasting that I don't notice the hunger of others?

The following names are of people who recently received a Bible. They did not have one before. Many of them are risking their lives by having it and reading it. The prayer is that all of them will follow it and be willing to risk their lives to share it with their hostile countrymen.

The least I could do is pray for them by name...that God would give them wisdom to understand, apply and live out God's Word, and then share it with others. The least I could do is give money so that even more people may receive their own copy. The least I could do is tell others around me the wonderful truths I have learned in God's Word. The least I could do is read one of my own copies...everyday.

"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." (Psalm 119:105)

"How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" (Psalm 119:103)

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20)

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Taking a Break For Spring

We are counting down the last few hours of spring break! We have had a wonderful, relaxing week of sleeping in late, hanging out with friends, reading books, and playing for hours.

We also had the huge blessing of having my sister and brother-in-law and their sweet little baby in town for several days!

My nephew was born 8 weeks early, and we were thrilled to see him looking so plump and healthy now at five months old!

Sometimes you don't realize how much you needed a break until you get one! We have soaked in as much relaxation as we could get this week. And now I think we're ready to head back in to the regular routine.

Lord guide us in the days ahead. Use this time of rest to replenish us and give us a vision of Your will as we move back into our normal schedule.

"Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil." (Proverbs 4:25-27) 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Turning Messes into Miracles

Remember in school when certain teachers would let you retake tests you did poorly on? Sometimes they'd let you redo the whole thing, sometimes just the portions you really messed up. Then they'd average in the new score with the old score so you could end up with a higher grade. Remember that?

Well, yesterday I felt like I needed a retake. This post was supposed to be titled "Not Complete Without the Heat". It was going to be a lovely little thing about how the process of baking bread has reminded me of the value of heat in our lives.

You know -- just like the dough has to spend time in a hot oven in order to become yummy, edible bread, so we sometimes have to face the heat of trials and suffering in order to become complete.

We are told in Scripture to expect the heat (I John 3:13 says "Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you." and 1 Peter 4:12 says "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.")

And we are told to appreciate the value of what the heat produces (Job 23:10 says "But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.")

I was going to share Jeremiah 17:7-8 "Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit."

And then I was going to talk about trusting in the Lord and not being anxious, or fearing when the heat comes.

But before I could write up this post, I found myself failing the test on this very issue.

Some things have recently changed in our finances, leaving us paying a few hundred dollars a month more for a few select things. This was certainly irritating, but not completely devastating. I mean, "trust the Lord", right? Don't be anxious. I've seen God provide time and again when unexpected bills have come our way.

But yesterday, when I sat down to organize our finances, I opened a bill that was way beyond unexpected in my book. This bill was just under $1000, and was going to be a monthly expense, not just a one-time thing.

So, I freaked out! I immediately went into super-stressed reaction mode. I'm not really sure what happened to "not fear[ing] when heat comes." I was panicked. Frantic statements were made to my husband. Unkind things were said about those sending the bill. I had lost all joy and didn't even stop to pray.

After a few minutes Jon took over the bill drama and related phone calls and I began pouring all my frustration into five loads of laundry and a sink full of dirty dishes. (That's really the only positive point in this part of the story...when I'm angry or irritated I seem to get alot of good cleaning done!)

While I was cleaning I listened to a sermon on (drumroll please!) suffering. It "just happened" to be the next sermon in a series I'm listening to. And by the end of the hour, I felt encouraged. I was reminded of God's Sovereignty and that suffering and hardship are tools to help us mature in our faith and grow closer to the Lord.

And finally I was thinking rightly -- Biblically. I told the Lord that I trusted Him and I knew He would take care of our finances. I began thinking through things we could cut from our lives to free up the money. I told the Lord I was willing to do whatever drastic thing He wanted us to do in this situation.

About an hour later I got a call from Jon. False alarm. It was all a mistake. We were not responsible for this bill.

Ok. Wow. Isn't it amazing how our emotions can swing from one extreme to another in such a short time? So I sat there, and I thanked the Lord for taking care of it, and I realized how crazy I was for getting so worked up.

And maybe, if I'm honest, "crazy" isn't really the right term. Maybe "lacking in faith" or "sinful" more accurately hits the nail on the head. Guess what verse comes right after that inspiring passage in Jeremiah 17:7-8? Verse 9 hit me with "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"


I'm reminded that while God has brought me so very far, I still have lots farther to go. I want to trust in the Lord. I want to bear fruit regardless of what kind of drought is happening around me. But sometimes I find myself failing the test, desperately wanting a retake (or even wishing we could just completely drop that lowest score!).

But God is so gracious. He is not keeping score. When we fail or fall, He remains constant. He remains loving. He is willing to forgive. And He uses even the failures to teach us and train us. To mold us and shape us into His image. He takes the mess and makes it a miracle.

"Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise." Jeremiah 17:14