Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On Being Poured

Since I have been writing from the first chapter of James, let me ask you this question. Have you been feeling like you are being strung along from trial to trial to trial? Do you ever wonder if there is any relief? To be honest I am in a place where I wonder if the rest of my life will be trial after trial after trial with not much rest in between. I have been wrestling with this thought and have been praying for God's mercy to help me have a better perspective and acceptance of the things we face in life.

When I write about things it certainly is not to show what I know as though I have arrived in those areas. The writing is usually an expression of the very things God is dealing with in me and the issues I am wrestling with. I want to be known as someone who is real, not religious and self righteous. I feel that God wants us to be a relatable people. This means we need to be open with others that we in fact struggle with the same things and that we are just as helpless without Him as the next person. Does this mean we are to go around spreading negativity? No, but there is a door that opens into the heart and lives of others when we can share that we also struggle in our faith at times.

To be perfectly honest I love God very much. However I am a bit irritated with Him in some things. I have already told Him and He knows anway. But I understand and know that He has my best interest at heart. He is into transformation, not stagnation. His will is for us to be poured. You ask, "What does it mean to be poured?"

A couple of weeks ago I came across a description of this concept and it really helped me to better understand what God has been doing in my personal life. I pray very often asking God to make me more like Him. I ask Him to teach me how to love like Him. Needless to say that is a dangerous prayer to pray and a very uncomfortable one at that. However, it is the prayer He longs for us to pray.

In Jeremiah 48, the prophet Jeremiah begins to prophecy over the people of Moab. The Moabites were a very paganist and idolatrous people who lived across the Dead Sea east of the Land of Israel.God pronounced judgement on Moab through Jeremiah and identifies what Moab's problem was. Verse 11 says, "Moab has been at ease since his youth." Why was Moab so morally weak? The answer is a life of ease. "Moab has never been disturbed, neither has he been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into exile. Therefore he retains his flavor and his aroma has not changed." (Jeremiah 48:11)

We have all read and heard about how God transforms us as a potter forms the clay. However, I would like to share another example of transformation and it has to do with the making of wine. When wine is fermented initially it is a combination of what is sweet and what is bitter. (That sounds like me)

Long ago wine was poured into a skin and was left there for a long time.After some time, the bitter part would fall to the bottom and become dregs. After another stretch of time, what was on the surface..the sweet stuff, was poured into another skin for another increment of time until more dregs were formed. Then after some more time, it would be poured into another skin and the same process would be repeated. This continued until there were no dregs at all because of what had been removed through the entire process. The end result was pure wine.

Unfortunately, Moab was never poured from trial to trial to trial so they remained stagnant which resulted in bitterness. This really helps me to see why we sometimes go through a continual process of trials. It is the hand of God and His work of pouring us. If you feel like you are seeing more dregs in your life, then be encouraged. God is allowing you to sit so the impurities of your soul will settle. If you feel empty, then it may very well be that you have just been poured out. Now you may have to sit a while that more dregs can settle.

When we can truly see the purpose of our struggles, then we can truly count them all joy. On another note, I really can see the sweet wine being poured as some of it splashes out onto others.

Lord, help us to not resent the process of being poured and poured and poured again. Help us to embrace the process and even trust that we can still be a blessing to others in meantime. Let the wine of Your joy sprinkle others as you transfer us from one wineskin to another. Thank you for teaching us and reminding those of us who may have already known these things but need to hear it again. May we remain humble in Your sight and remain teachable. We know we need review lessons so many times as we forget so often. We appreciate your reminders Lord. In Jesus Name.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

NO GREATER LOVE

I am currently reading NO GREATER LOVE, by MOTHER TERESA. If you want your heart and spirit to be stirred as to what this christian life is all about you should read this book. I thought I knew and I have so much more to learn...yet just this week my eyes have been opened to a greater understanding of the heart of our Savior.

I am tired of religious facades. God is crying out for those who will say yes to Him regardless of how dirty we get...regardless of how bad someone smells and regardless of my own state of spiritual and physical poverty. We must eat the bread of His presence and desire nothing more that simply that depth of intimacy if we are going to love like He loves.

Be blessed by this excerpt from Mother Teresa:

"LOVE JESUS GENEROUSLY. LOVE HIM TRUSTFULLY, WITHOUT LOOKING BACK AND WITHOUT FEAR.GIVE YOURSELF FULLY TO JESUS, HE WILL USE YOU TO ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS ON THE CONDITION THAT YOU BELIEVE MUCH MORE IN HIS LOVE THAN IN YOUR WEAKNESS. BELIEVE IN HIM, TRUST IN HIM WITH A BLIND AND ABSOLUTE CONFIDENCE BECAUSE HE IS JESUS.HE IS JESUS. BELIEVE THAT JESUS AND JESUS ALONE IS AND LIFE, AND SANCTITY IS NOTHING BUT THAT SAME JESUS INTIMATELY LIVING IN YOU;THEN HIS HAND WILL BE FREE WITH YOU.

WHO IS JESUS TO ME?
JESUS IS THE WORD MADE FLESH.
JESUS IS THE BREAD OF LIFE.
JESUS IS THE VICTIM OFFERED FOR OUR SINS ON THE CROSS.
JESUS IS THE WORD TO BE SPOKEN
JESUS IS THE TRUTH TO BE TOLD.
JESUS IS THE WAY TO BE WALKED
JESUS IS THE LIGHT TO BE LIT.
JESUS IS THE LIFE TO BE LIVED.
JESUS IS THE LOVE TO BE LOVED.
JESUS IS THE JOY TO BE SHARED.
JESUS IS THE PEACE TO BE GIVEN
JESUS IS THE HUNGRY TO BE FED.
JESUS IS THE THIRSTY TO BE SATIATED
JESUS IS THE NAKED TO BE CLOTHED.
JESUS IS THE HOMELESS TO BE TAKEN IN.
JESUS IS THE SICK TO BE HEALED.
JESUS IS THE LONELY TO BE LOVED.
JESUS IS THE UNWANTED TO BE WANTED.
JESUS IS THE LEPER TO WASH HIS WOUNDS.
JESUS IS THE BEGGAR TO GIVE HIM A SMILE.
JESUS IS THE DRUNKARD TO LISTEN TO HIM.
JESUS IS THE MENTALLY ILL TO PROTECT HIM.
JESUS IS THE LITTLE ONE TO EMBRACE HIM.
JESUS IS THE BLIND TO LEAD HIM.
JESUS IS THE DUMB TO SPEAK FOR HIM.
JESUS IS THE CRIPPLED TO WALK WITH HIM.
JESUS IS THE DRUG ADDICT TO BEFRIEND HIM.
JESUS IS THE PROSTITUTE TO REMOVE FROM DANGER AND BEFRIEND HER.
JESUS IS THE PRISONER TO BE VISITED.
JESUS IS THE OLD TO BE SERVED.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Count it All Joy? Part 2

If you read "Count It All Joy?" Part One, you will want to read this. In the last blog I wrote about what it means to count and to consider something all joy based on James 1. Secondly, I shared about how we must know certain things to even be able to count something as joyful, especially through trying and testing times in our lives.

James 1:3 states that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. This is what we need to know. If I do not know that the test will produce something good then I will have no hope or motivation to move forward. Each time I go through a trial and allow it to do the work of strengthening me, then I know that when the next obstacle comes, I am empowered to push through and endure. Verse 4 says that perseverance must finish its work that we may be mature and complete. God's heart is that we grow to maturity and to wholeness in Him. This is the demonstration and evidence of God's heart and best for our lives. It is the manifestation of His embrace and kiss upon our fragile hearts.

Sometimes it seems that when we are going through troubling seasons of our lives that God is distant. What we need to know is that He is closer than ever and that His affections are in operation toward us in a special way. Psalm 131 basically expresses,

LORD, MY HEART IS NOT HAUGHTY
NOR MY EYES LOFTY
NEITHER DO I CONCERN MYSELF WITH GREAT MATTERS
NOR WITH THINGS TOO PROFOUND FOR ME
SURELY I HAVE CALMED AND QUIETED MY SOUL
LIKE A WEANED CHILD WITH HIS MOTHER
LIKE A WEANED CHILD IS MY SOUL WITHIN ME
O ISRAEL,HOPE IN THE LORD
FROM THIS TIME FORTH AND FOREVER.

This Psalm uses the example of a weaned child to show a perfect picture of maturity. In our human mind we define maturity in a way that exemplifies independence and self sufficiency. However, God likens maturity to a weaned child. This child is usually one or two years old. He or she is walking and getting into a lot of things...many times making numerous messes. However this child learns many things through the messes he makes. Furthermore, when the child becomes weary, fearful or hurt, he rushes straight back to the place where he once was nursed...in his mother's lap.

Maturity is dependence. This child no longer needs his mother milk. He is eating solids. However, he always goes to the place he feels nurtured; the place where he knows true love. The child goes to that safe place and he sits without questions. A little child in his mother's lap is content and does not need to know anymore than that his mommy is simply there. He does not need to know about tomorrow or what is next. There is peace and contentment.

Likewise, when we are facing pressures too tough to bear at times, we need to picture ourselves as this little toddler. Psalm 46:10 says "Be still and know I am God." "Be Still" in Hebrew text means to let go. Letting go and allowing God to hold us, embrace us and love us is the mark of maturity. It is all about the art of falling into His arms. I so want to learn to be better at sitting in His lap and leaning against chest. When I learn to do this, I can be assured that when He gets up to go somewhere I am in His arms and I am moving with Him. Oh the thought of this truth and the joy of this reality. May we take hold of Him and never let go.

I have more to say about this thing called joy. Check back because I am going to share about what a life of ease produces and what a life of submission produces. There is a lot to be said about this...so stayed tuned in. Peace.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Count it All Joy?

Agnes was walking the crowded streets of Calcutta, India one day and noticed a very ill woman lying within a doorway to a building. The diseased woman was so oblivious to her surroundings as rats nibbled constantly on her toes. Agnes was so taken back by the sight that she approached the woman, picked her up, and managed to tote her to the nearest hospital. The hospital staff was very rude and aloof as they scorned, "Take her away. She will die anyway." Agnes, being a small woman in stature did not allow her size to hinder her. She boldly insisted that they admit the terminally ill woman. After much struggle and arguing the medical staff allowed the woman to be admitted.

Shortly after Agnes left the hospital she began to contemplate all the people she had noticed who were like the sick woman she had carried to the hospital. She then preceded to go to the government to ask for a vacant building. Her request was granted. From that day on, Agnes made it her life's mission to help sick and hurting people. She took in many diseased and dying individuals and provided a comfortable and clean environment to spend their last days. She and her helpers were abused daily as the Hindu leaders as well as followers threw stones at them as they transported sickly individuals into the refuge. The religious people of the community reported them to the police. As the officer entered the building he saw Agnes lovingly bathing a sick woman who had maggots crawling out of open sores on her body. The officer was so touched that he went back and told the religious leaders that he would remove Agnes and her helpers from the facilities on the condition that they themselves would gather enough of their own family members to go in and take over the good work taking place there! Hallelujah!

This is only a small section of the story of Mother Teresa's life. She was a small woman with a big heart. That enormous heart allowed her to accomplish many things during her life in showing the love of Jesus to the hurting. Her acts of kindness and compassion touched many who saw her in action. Her life was a witness because she lived it. I am sure she shared words about the Lord with those she lovingly touched, but her greatest witness was in the way she gave of herself. Only a heart filled with God can move the hearts of others.

This past Wednesday I shared this story with the women in our life group because we were sharing about perseverance. If there was ever a time in my own life to press through regardless of the circumstances it is now. We read and talked about James 1: 2-4 which states, "Count it all joy my brethren, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." I know the Lord has been speaking to me and teaching me about persevering in times when it seems like it would be easy to just throw in the towel and take a broader road.

So the question is: How do we practically count it all joy when we are facing pressures from all direction? The word says to do it. But how do we do it?
Here are some things that I need to grow in and I hope you will be encouraged in this also.

First, to count something means to consider. It means to think forward, to look ahead to the benefit and to look past the trauma of the moment because there is no joy in immediate pain. Thinking forward is a habit we must form. James 1:2 says to count it ALL joy. Not a little bit of joy but a fullness of joy. Joy is not the same thing as happiness. Happiness is a fleeing emotion. It is with you a moment then "boom" some circumstance comes along and happiness is gone. God desires to bless us with happy moments throughout our lives. However, His ultimate plan is to do a work so deep within our spirits that joy will be manifested in our lives.

In Galatians, Paul says that one of the fruits of the spirit is joy. Joy is of the spirit. Happiness is of the soul. How can we count it all joy when we face trials and disappointments? The key is thinking forward by contemplating the promises of God. There are thousands of promises in God's word.

Verse three says we know the testing of our faith produces perseverance. Here the word "knowing" is key. We have to know certain things before we can do them. If I do not know what God says about Himself and what he says about me, then it will make it impossible to do anything. If He says He is producing something in me then I can look into His love letter to me and read what He is actually producing. This in turn helps me to think forward instead of thinking about my problems.

We must develop new habits of focusing on the promises instead of the problems. What if we took one promise each day from God's word and thought on that one promise? There would be enough promises to last for thousands of days. Our thinking would change and others would be changed because of what has been cultivated in us. The word of God does something supernatural. It transforms us because the words are straight from the heart of the One who cannot break His promises.

When John and I were dating, we would write love letters to each other almost daily as we were living in different towns. Each day I looked forward to going to my mail box and receiving his words of love to me. The words I would read gave me hope for the future we were planning together and I looked forward to what was ahead. This is an example of thinking forward through reading and receiving the word of God, His love letter to you and to me.

This is becoming a long blog so I will continue this soon. There is more to say about perseverance so check back for the next blog about wholeness and maturity. I am writing this to myself more than anyone else and am challenged that in this season we need to focus on the Promises of God so that we may continue to press forward to the upward call of Christ Jesus.