Sunday, September 16, 2012

Giving thanks

I don’t think my faith has ever been tested quite to the extent that it’s being tested right now. Three days this week—Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday—I literally shook my fists at God. I screamed. I questioned His goodness, His faithfulness. And I yelled, “Enough!” Enough is enough. I could rattle off a dozen “unfair” things in my life right now—miracles I’ve begged for, requests I’ve petitioned Him for—none of which is happening.

But then I remember an important truth You taught me. Eucharisteo. Thankfulness precedes the miracle. Eucharisteo. He broke the bread. And gave thanks. And then sacrificed himself—His willingness to die so that I might live. Not only am I reminded that this life is about more than the here and now, but also sometimes the choice of thanks precedes the miracle. Sometimes the choice of thanks is in the middle of the hardest hour.

We choose to give thanks even before the miracle. We choose the hard thanks. We choose, instead, a life of thankfulness. 

And a life of thankfulness remembers all that I have. An attitude of thankfulness remembers the miracles He has performed when it doesn’t feel like He hears my prayers at all. I short change God when the moment he doesn’t perform, I accuse Him of unfaithfulness; I count the miracle as lost. But the truth is I can attest to a lot of prayers He has answered. Miracles big and small He has performed. And usually, the miracle is when I least expect it or when His timing is better than I could have planned.

My faith is weak, my unbelief, strong, and my view of God, small when I am quick to be angry for all that He hasn’t done. Oh how I lose sight of all that He has done.

Today—my family drove 45 miles, the boys crammed in the third row seats, to help decorate my office and see “my world” in Plainview. Today—the dean of my department, my new colleague and friend came up to the school to say “Hi” and meet my family. Today alone I am reminded of His goodness. Today I am reminded: I am blessed. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Patience and Discipline: My two least favorite words!

Some of you may know, but I've been trying to eat healthier and exercise for the last eight weeks. I've said goodbye to high-starch foods (breads, grains, wheat, flour, etc.) and most dairy (milk, sour cream, cheese). My motivations for this change are numerous--from health reasons to (let's be honest) my own personal vanity, but the real truth is that it's just something I need to do and have needed to do for a while. The problem, I've found, is that I often approach losing weight with the wrong mentality--and usually, my best motivation is competition (see, e.g., my own attempts in our biggest loser contest last year).

Because of that--and because of a lot of other unhealthy reasons (i.e. I love food), my successes always later end in failure, which is to say, I typically gain back whatever I lost and usually plus some. I feel like I've been in this pattern since I graduated from college in 2007. The reality is I've always had a problem with eating right, but it never affected me because I worked out enough to balance the bad eating habits. Throw in being newly married and working on a PhD, and suddenly my eating habits have unfortunate consequences.

What I've come to learn is this: I don't have a healthy (or godly) approach to how or what I eat. And before you roll your eyes and say God doesn't care what we eat, I recommend that you read the book Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst. I stumbled on this book about two weeks into my diet changes--a serendipitous discovery that was, no doubt, God-ordained. Lysa's words were exactly what I needed, at the exact moment I needed them. Read it! It's truly eye-opening.

Anyway--back to what I've learned. The reason diets don't work for me is because they only reinforce my unhealthy approach to food, a system of rewards and punishments. Chips and queso, a reward. Carrot sticks and celery, a punishment. Inevitably, I eat "punishment" food and lose weight. Then satisfied with my changes, I satisfy myself with reward food. It's really a vicious cycle. And at the heart of it is this--I was made with a longing to be satisfied, but food should never be so important to me that it controls my thoughts, longings, or satisfactions.

As silly as it seems to say that food controlled my thoughts, longings, or satisfactions, it's true. It did. I could get a craving for chips and queso or for Whataburger's fries or pizza (or whatever), and I really felt like I had to have it. Whatever it was, it needed to be my lunch or my dinner in the near future--and the craving wouldn't be satisfied until I was full. Or stuffed, rather.

Sadly, I'd started to learn this lesson on self-control last May, but I obviously needed some re-teaching. And this time, I needed to get to the root: What do I really crave? What satisfies me? Is God really sufficient? Does He fulfill me?

It's been a good journey, though not always easy. I was thinking about Hitch today--that scene when he is having the allergic reaction to shellfish, and he starts drinking the Benedryl syrup and yelling for it to start working. Here's the scene:

I think I feel this way sometimes; I especially did at first. I put in the effort, but didn't see the results. And even now, although I've lost 14 pounds, I still have a ways to go to get to my "goal" weight. If I focus on how far I am from where I want to be, then I can easily get discouraged. But, it takes time. More importantly, though, having read Lysa's book, I am learning that it's not really about reaching the goal weight. If I'm not satisfied with Him at Xlbs, then I won't be satisfied with Him at Ylbs, either. I've got to change the root of my desires.

And the thing with change--whether we're talking about swelling from an allergic reaction, fitting into a new size pair of jeans, or practicing healthy (and godly) attitudes toward food--is that change takes time. And time means patience. And patience means discipline.

"'Everything is permissible for me,' but not everything is beneficial... I will not be mastered by anything." (1 Cor 6:12).

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Becoming a lioness....who kills spiders!

Right now I am reading the book Lioness Arising by Lisa Bevere, and it's challenging me to rise up as a woman of God and affect change in my world. My personality is not very confrontational, and I tend to be easily intimidated and fearful. But this book is stirring so much in my heart.

I love it when Christian women recognize that we're not subjugated, subordinated, or unequal to men. I once wrote a paper about this in a graduate course--that the Church has long used authority, intimidation, and fear to "quiet" women. But Lisa's book urges us to step out of that place of "quietness." Like the paper I once wrote, she, too, is disappointed in the historical position the church has taken: "I am saddened that the church was not the first to confront gender inequality" (p. 44). Instead, she is calling for women to awaken as lionesses--fierce and capable of changing our world. She writes, "Strength is not to be feared; it is to be embraced. Do not make the mistake of imagining meekness to be weakness. It is tempered strength or might under control" (p. 24).

Although I'm not all that outspoken on most issues, I have long been frustrated to see women put down in the Church, in the home, in the workplace, etc. Maybe it's because I've been around academics for the last 8 years, but I've come to see inequality on so many levels. A professor of mine once joked with me that it's okay to be a Christian feminist; in fact, he said, Jesus was probably more of a feminist than anyone else in the Church since then. And he was right--study scripture, and you'll see that Jesus stood up for women, gave women positions of authority, and did not silence women.

So, reading this book, I've been asking God what it means to be a lioness. I feel a little funny even saying the word... but what does it mean for me to rise up, be fierce and capable, and affect change in my world?

Well, I'm thinking He gave me a trial run yesterday...with a spider. Hal has been out of town this week, and yesterday, I had to kill a big, brown spider in our bathroom. I have a dreadful fear of spiders, and I spent a good 15 minutes in the bathroom, standing there frozen, crying, staring at the spider, and knowing there was no one there to kill it for me.

It's a silly thing, and I know it, but it was no small feat either. I really hate spiders that much. All I could think was, "You've not given me a spirit of fear..." After I had put on Hal's jeans (for some reason, I felt the need for big and baggy?) and his boots (yes, again, about five sizes too big)--and I felt as secure as possible--I whispered, "Daddy, help me" and let out the loudest scream. In seconds, it was over, and I threw off Hal's boots and sat on the edge of our bed. Heart pounding. Crying. And then I laughed at myself for being so ridiculous. I mean, while living in London, I chased the man who mugged me for four blocks before giving up. If that's not bravery (or stupidity?), I don't know what is.

If God is awakening a lioness in me and if He's calling me to be fierce and capable, then what if yesterday was not just about killing a spider? What if the spider means something more?

I have so much to learn about fear and intimidation--two words God has been teaching me about for over a year now, but I open my heart to learn, and I open my ears to listen for His voice: "Awaken Lioness." 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Blessed with good gifts from a good Father

It's been a while since my last post, but I've been thinking about the goodness of God. I realized that in my short discussion of God's attributes from Acts 17:22-31, I did not blog about God's goodness--that God, in his very nature, is good.

A few years ago, on another blog, I wrote a post about Psalm 119:68, which says that God is good, and what He does is good. I love that verse. It reminds me, too, of Jesus' sermon where He says what Dad would give his son a stone if he asked for a slice of bread? And if so, how much greater are the gifts that our Heavenly Daddy wants to give to us? 

This semester, I've experienced such a sweet overflow of goodness and blessing from the Lord. When the scripture says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good," I can now say, "Yup, I have, and I do." For starters, my sister got engaged in January and is getting married at the end of June. Although this event is not my own personal experience, I am still greatly blessed by it. It blesses me to see that she truly has found God's best for her. It's a beautiful picture of God's mercy, and grace, and love--that despite some of life's journeys, at the end of the road is a taste of His goodness, a taste that says, at the end of the day, He is still good.

My brother, too, got engaged this semester, and again, it blesses me so. I have joked about this with friends, but I cried for joy when he got engaged--more so than I cried at my own proposal moment! Maybe it is because he is my big brother and because I know in my heart the leap of faith he's taking--the same leap of faith we all take--when we say, yes, I commit my life to this person. I am so thankful for Megan--she was a picture of God's goodness for my brother, and now, she'll be my sister-in-law. :) That God, in His perfect timing, would put together two strong, complementing couples--Michalea and Jaime, Clinton and Meg--is a beautiful picture of His goodness.

And if you've not heard, I got a job at Wayland in Plainview as an Assistant Professor of English. I officially start this August. I'm not sure that I can adequately articulate how thrilled I am to have this position. It's not just a job for me, which means it's more than just the every-day-good-ole-workings-of-God kind of thing. It's exactly what I want to teach (linguistics, technical communication, research writing, and composition) at exactly the place where I wanted to teach. When I started my PhD at Texas Tech, I knew Tech would never hire me as a professor (they do not hire their own grads), but my heart desired to stay in or near Lubbock. Hal has a great job here, we have an amazing church home (which is not always easy to find!), most of my family is here (or near), and this is home to me. Thankfully--and truly by the grace of God--Hal feels at home here, too. That's not to say that God can't or won't move us elsewhere someday, but to stay in this area was my heart's greatest desire. And because of that, to teach at Wayland, specifically, has been my prayer for three years--long before there was a job opening, long before there was a letter of application submitted, long before an interview took place.

When I was offered the job, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so I did a little of both. In life, I feel like things rarely work out the way we hoped. I don't mean that negatively because I do believe God works everything for His good--and there are lots of things in my life that I am so glad they didn't work out. I love the verse that says in his heart, man plans his ways, but the Lord directs his path. Often, that is the reality: life is not always what we plan. We think we want to be somewhere doing something, but then sometimes God changes our path, and we later see it for the good.

But this is not one of those times--that's why I think it's so rare--because this is one of those times where the end worked out exactly as I hoped. And because of that, I can only be in awe of my Heavenly Daddy, in awe that He would give me such a perfect gift, the answer to my prayer three years ago!

Sometimes in the midst of our circumstances, it's hard to remember God's goodness because the circumstance or situation doesn't feel good. In those times, cling to His attribute--that He is good, and what He does is good. And then remember to thank Him when, out of His goodness, He blesses you with good gifts!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

God is Judge

I am to my final attribute – it’s hard to believe. This has been an incredible journey of discovering God’s attributes, experience Him in a new way. This season of my life has been about His asking me to have a deeper trust and contentment with Him. It has not been easy, but as I learn to put my expectation in Him, in His attributes, I am satisfied. He really is enough. On Saturday, he said to me: “Just as your trust cannot be conditional to an understanding, so, too, your faith cannot be conditional to my ‘performance.’” 

My trust in Him is based on Him, who He said He is, who He has shown Himself to be. Period. It’s been a fun study for the last few months, and I invite you to read the old posts if you’ve not read attribute #1 - #10 (click the tag “attributes of God” for quick reading). 

The final attribute from Acts from 17:22-31 comes from verse31: “because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” 

#10: God is our Judge

I’ve put off writing this post because this attribute is not only intimidating, but it’s not very positive, either. Who wants to read about God judging the world—even if I do believe it? 

But as I asked God what do  You want me to write, I felt like He laid something much more important on my heart: God is Judge, and as such, it’s not my job, my responsibility, or my right to judge others. I have felt for a long time that Christians are more critical of others (Christians and non-Christians alike) than non-Christians are of anyone. 

My feelings were confirmed while reading a blog post about the judgment homosexuals face by Christians (or other religious groups). Several points that this writer makes are worth repeating:
“The greatest spiritual leaders in history have all preached love for others as the basis for all happiness, and never did they accompany such mandates with a list of unlovable actions or deeds. They never said, love everybody except for the gays. Love everybody except for the homeless. Love everybody except for the drug users. Love everybody except for the gang members, or those covered in ink, or the spouse abusers. They didn’t tell us it was okay to love everybody with the exception of the “trailer trash,” those living in poverty, or the illegal immigrants. They didn’t tell us it was okay to love everybody except for our ex-lovers, our lovers’ ex lovers, or our ex-lovers’ lovers. The mandate was pretty damn clear, wasn’t it?
Love others. Period.”
“I know there are many here who believe that living a homosexual life is a sin.
But, what does that have to do with love?
I repeat… what does that have to do with love?
 Come on. Don’t we understand? Don’t we get it? To put our arm around someone who is gay, someone who has an addiction, somebody who lives a different lifestyle, someone who is not what we think they should be… doing that has nothing to do with enabling them or accepting what they do as okay by us. It has nothing to do with encouraging them in their practice of what you or I might feel or believe is wrong vs right.”
He concedes that he's not a Christian, and he ends the blog with this sort of “love others and you'll love yourself” thing, and of course, that’s not where I would take it. But here’s what I would say. He is absolutely right on two accounts: as Christians, we are commanded to love others, period; and two, we are commanded not to judge anyone. 

I’m not sure where we put that “load” upon ourselves, but it should be freeing to know that we don’t have to carry it. It was freeing for me, anyway. It released me from worry about how God would deal with Person A who does x, y, or z – whether we’re talking about homosexuality or clubbing, prostitution or tattoos. I mean, God couldn’t possibly save person A who does x, y, or z, right? How did we, as the Church, get to labeling sins and categorizing them among a hierarchy of deeds? Well, those are “lifestyle” sin, some might argue. Yes, and so is my daily my struggle not to fear man. Is my fear of man more than fear of God any less problematic? Absolutely not. And yet, no one (at least that I know of) is questioning my salvation. 

Jantzen Louder preached a few weeks ago, and at one point in his message, he made the comment that everyone should have at least one friend who is not a Christian. He didn’t mean a passing knowledge of a person who’s not a Christian, but a relationship with a non-Christian. I’m sure this was shocking for some, but for me, it was encouraging to finally hear someone say it from the pulpit. 

However, if you would have asked me 8 years ago if I knew a single non-Christian, my answer would have been “no.” In high school, all my friends were Christians. And in college, I fell into the same group. And that’s why I thank God that I met Jane* my senior year at ASU. Jane and I worked together, and after a week of working together, I knew she was a lesbian, and she knew I was a Christian. At that time, I had no idea how to handle knowing and working with a lesbian (gasp, I know). But God told me this: I love her as much as I love you or anyone else. And I said okay, then I love her, too. After working together for a month, we had this conversation:
Jane: “You know I’m gay, right?”
Me: “Yes, I gathered.”
Jane: “So, now you’ll tell me how wrong it is, right? It’s a sin? And I’m going to hell?”
Me: “No, I don’t think I’m anyone to decide who gets to go to heaven and who has to go to hell.”
Jane: Pausing for a moment, clearly confused. “Well, I know what all the Bible says about homosexuality. I’ve read the verses, not just the Old Testament, but in Romans 1, too.”
Me: “Then, I don’t guess there’s anything you’d need to know.”
Jane: “So… okay then.”
Me: “Okay then.”
Jane and I went on to be friends, and we still keep in touch from time to time. And today, I have lots of people in my life who hold different beliefs than I do. And for some of them, they’re not just people I know in passing; they’re people I love and respect deeply. And, more importantly, I'm not friends with them to save them, convince them, or change them. If you think being friends with non-Christians is about having "projects," you've missed the point. And if you think it's your job to defend or sell Christianity, you've missed the point, again.

I know that I can’t, for one second, pretend that I have all the answers about sin, anyway. My response to Jane is as true today as it was 8 years ago: “I don’t think I’m anyone to decide who gets to go to heaven and who has to go to hell.” 

Here’s the truth: anyone with any understanding how wretched we are in our sin, anyone with an understanding of how amazing His grace is—in short, anyone who “gets” the depravity from which we were saved—should know this: Who am I to judge?  

“A new commandment I give you to, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

*Jane was not her real name.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

From 4Runner to 4Runner

Yes, I'm about to be one of those silly people who writes a blog post about her new car. :) But this is a sentimental moment for me, and I'm not always a sentimental person!

Eight years ago TODAY, at the ripe 'ole age of 17, I bought my first car (and paid cash!): a '99 black 4Runner Limited. Even then, having the funding to buy the car was by the grace of God. I remember the end of my senior year approaching, and I had been saving since I was 15...and I did not think it was going to come together. But it did.

This picture is from my senior year. I won't say how long it took me to find the scrapbook it was in, but it was worth the "hunt."

Yesterday, God blessed me with a new-to-me 2011 4Runner. We've been praying and saving for a year, and God provided the best deal. He literally answered our prayer down to the penny! He is so good!

I love this picture. Saying bye to great memories  and seeing in my future new memories to come. Yes, this is just a car, but it's also a new beginning, a new season for us. ...And, yes, I might be one of those people who buys a black 4Runner for the rest of her life, but I am a happy, happy woman!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

God is Not Confined by Man-Made Artifacts

It's hard to believe I'm on my second to last attribute in my list from Acts 17:22-31: God is not man-made nor is He confined by man-made artifacts. Verse 30 tells us that we ought not to think that He is like "gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man's devising." Paul's reference to gold and silver and stone here is a direct reference to man-made idols, gods worshiped by the Greeks (at this point, he is in Athens). Today our nation may not have golden statues that we worship (though other nations certainly do), but we have plenty of things we idolize. That's not what I want to say this morning though...

Similar to the third attribute (God is boundless), God is not contained by our man-made creations, and I would dare say our biggest failure as Christians is that we, in this nation, have reduced God to Sunday morning church.

Not only is God's presence everywhere, but His Holy Spirit lives inside of me. If we are the body of Christ, then we also are the Church. This struck me in particular Saturday night at church. Pastor Jackie was pretty fired up preaching about service, our mandate to serve one another. His last point was that we serve to right injustices. The point of our Christian walk is not to fill a pew and get comfy - it's to go out and serve! And to do that, we don't have to take a trip halfway around the world. Places like the Dream Center minister to the poor in our city - right here in Lubbock!

In fact, Jackie talked a lot about our mandate to serve the poor and widows. That's why he has such a heart for the Slaton-Bean area. The Church, Christians, should be the ones serving those in need, those in crises, those in abusive situations, those in poverty and with poverty mindsets.

I am so thankful to be a part of a church, and under a pastor, who serves our city and our world. This year, we will send 150 people out to places all over the world, like Kenya, India, Czech Republic, and Guatemala, to serve. We give some 30% of our budget to missions organizations where most churches are lucky if their staff gives 10% away. And we have people who serve at the Dream Center daily, ministering to those in need in our city.

And what I love about the Dream Center is its goal to train and raise up generations out of poverty. Sure, we give away food and clothes to hundreds of families each week, but we also offer after school programs, G.E.D. classes, and job-search skills, like resume-building and interview strategies.

But it's not just about what my church is doing; it's about what I'm doing. When we got home, I kept thinking about our mandate to serve the poor. Personally, I am sometimes skeptical of government welfare programs because, for one, I know that the programs get abused by those who would take advantage of free money. When I worked at United Supermarkets, it always irked me when I would sack groceries for a WIC family and then carry the groceries out to a brand new Escalade. Secondly, I was raised to always take a job, to always work, no matter how "beneath me" the task may be. But on Saturday, God said to me, if the Church would do its job, there'd be no need for the government to run welfare programs. The welfare of the poor and the job-less is and has always been the Church's responsibility. 

Instead, we are worrying about building 20 million dollar buildings and buying fancier stuff to fill our pews. If every church in every city served the poor, the job-less, the homeless, and those abused, we wouldn't have a welfare problem.

Jackie is right: we have a mandate to serve. And we have a mandate to serve those in unjust situations, to right injustices. And poverty is an injustice. We are the Church - you and me - and our purpose is no more about filling a pew than God's attribute is about being contained within the four walls of a church.

Jesus said that He didn't come to be served, but to serve. If you're waiting for "The Church" to do something in our nation, stop. You are the Church. I am the Church. Let's do one thing today, this week, this month, to serve others.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

God is Abba Father

It has been a hectic couple of weeks, but I have been thinking about this post for a while. If you've been following the attributes from Acts 17: 24-31, I'm on #8 - God is our Daddy. In Acts 17:29, it only briefly refers to us as the offspring of God. Another passage, in Romans 8: 15 - 17, provides a better description:
"For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. And if children, then heirs--heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him that we may also be glorified together." 

What I love about this is the reference to our Spirit, which cries out "Abba, Father" - literally, "Daddy, Father!" I can't exactly pinpoint in my life when it happened, but a few years ago, I started praying to God as Daddy and not as a stiff, disconnected Father. I mean, who calls their own father, "Father." It's stiff and formal, right? For me, this change in the way I saw my Heavenly Father was around the same time Paige Allen preached a sermon about being "daughters of inheritance" and not "daughters of reward." 

What this means is that I am already a daughter, I am already accepted in the Beloved. I am saved by grace through faith, which for some reason is easier for me to accept than the fact that as a daughter, I don't have to earn God's love through works. 

I have always been such a pleaser, and similarly, I think I approached God this way. I would think his love were conditioned, as if he were pleased by my good behavior and turned away by my bad behavior. Now, I am not saying God's heart isn't grieved when we sin, but His love is unchanging, unconditional. (I'm told I'll understand this better when I have kids of my own...)

The most radical thing God ever told me in my journey to calling Him and seeing Him as Abba is how much he loved me. I'll never forget it. I was at our ranch in Dickens on a Thursday afternoon, and I desperately needed God to speak to me. He said, 
"Laura, you are my daughter, and I love you so much. Do you know how much I love you? Nothing you do can ever add to or take away from my love for you. It is already infinite."

Wow. It is already infinite! When I got ahold of the truth that nothing I do adds to His love for me and nothing I do takes away from His love for me, it changed my heart. As someone who feels guilty a lot, who fears upsetting someone else a lot, or who worries what someone else might think if I do this or that - this message for me was so freeing. If I pray every day for an hour, God loves me. If I don't pray for a week, God still loves me. 

And for some reason, with this freedom, I was more inclined to serve Him, to obey Him, to please Him. Not because I felt guilty, not because I needed to earn His love or grace again. But because I was falling in love, too. I was free to fall in love in a relationship that's not conditioned; I was free to fall in love because of the powerful way He loved me first. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

God is our life-support

In Genesis 2:7, we find that God breathes life into us: "...and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life." Literally, this refers to the Spirit of God being breathed into us. At creation, He formed from dust our fleshly bodies, but he breathed His Spirit into us to give us life.

And thanks to Jesus' redemptive work on the cross, we don't have to live by our flesh. Our life support can be His Spirit which empowers us:
"But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you" (Romans 8:11; see, too, Eph 2:1).

I almost didn't consider this as an attribute. Of the ones listed in Acts 17, this isn't as clearly stated as God is... Instead, it's alluded to twice: 
"He gives to all life, breath, and all things" (Vs 25)
"For in Him we live and move and have our being" (Vs 28)

I loved that:  "have our being." I chose to say God is our life-support because if you've ever seen a life-support machine, you know it's doing all the work. It does the breathing--which is our life, right? I mean, without breath, we are dead. So, in essence, the life-support does for us what we cannot do on our own. 

There have certainly been moments in my life, seasons where I needed God to breathe for me because I didn't have the strength to breathe on my own. But other times, I think that God as our life-support is, instead, a picture of what our dependence on Him ought to look like.

I touched on this last week when I talked about the presence of the Holy Spirit being with us. Because of that truth, we have access to His power. We can instead operate out of the power of His grace by walking in the strength, the life, of His spirit. 

For me, I am still learning what this means - the daily, hourly choice to choose His Spirit in me over my flesh and my own strength. I don't always live it, and I certainly don't have a formula or steps for doing it. But, here is what I do know: When I choose Him, when I choose to sacrifice my time, when I choose quality relationship over quantity time, He strengthens me and allows me to accomplish abundantly, exceedingly more than I could ask or imagine (Eph 3:20).

Saturday, February 18, 2012

God is Near

At the end of Deuteronomy (31:6, 8), Moses gives a word to the people of Israel and then to Joshua personally:

  • "Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God He is one who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you." 
  • "Be strong and of good courage....And the Lord, He is the one who goes before you. He will be with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed." 
Then at the beginning of the book of Joshua, God again directly gives this word to Joshua as he steps into Moses' position: 
  • "As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you." 
The phrase "I will never leave you nor forsake you" is referenced again in Hebrews 13:5, and it serves as a comfort and a reminder of another one of God's attributes: His nearness. He is always near. He is with us. His nearness is, to me, an endearing attribute. And yet, how often do I forget that He is with me? At times of major crises, this attribute is, of course, the one we cling to most. But for the every day, the mundane, the day in and day out? At the end of John, Jesus tells his disciples He is sending the Holy Spirit, who will be their helper. Literally, this means One who walks with or walks beside. 

This week has been a crazy week for me. Sometimes I let life pile higher and higher until I'm overwhelmed, and this week has been one of those weeks where I over-commit myself and promise too much to too many. By the end of the week, I'm running on empty, and I'm thinking, how did I get here? 

The Lord gave me a picture as if I were putting a piece of furniture together by myself, and I needed to hold the two ends "just so" while I drilled. I can't hold two pieces and drill at the same time. Imagine, though, that someone is sitting next to me as I squirm and wiggle trying to hold the pieces "just so" while I drill. It seems foolish, right? Why wouldn't I just say, "Hey, can you help me out here?" 

Now, that's just one project--maybe a once-in-a-while kinda thing. But imagine if I were putting furniture together for a living. Day in and out, I'm squirming and wiggling and frustrated trying to balance everything "just so" while my partner, my helper sits there next to me, twiddling his thumbs. 

It's a silly picture, but visually it really resonates within me--as someone who has put together a lot of furniture over the years and as someone who doesn't do very well letting others (a.k.a. Hal) help me as I do it. 

It's no less foolish to live like I have this week, trying to juggle it all. I've been forgetful (for three days in a row, I ran out of the house in such a hurry I forgot to set meat out to thaw for dinner), I've been late to every appointment or meeting I've had (which, if you know me, is very unlike me!) because I'm always on the rush, from here to there, trying to get one more thing in, and I've been exhausted. I got so run-down from staying up til 1 a.m. trying to "get it all done," that by Wednesday, I was sick. This always happens to me, too... I let myself get so worn down that I just end up sick. 

And at the end of the week, my Helper gently says, "You know, if you'd like, I can hold those two boards while you drill." 

The point is God is always near. It's not only an inherent attribute, it's His promise too: I will never leave you nor forsake you. And we have the Holy Spirit to help us, to walk alongside us. He's more than a fire fighter or a disaster relief aide. He is there for the every day to empower us. 

This week is over - and I'm so thankful. Because of this week, I got to be reminded of God's most endearing attribute, that He is near. But next week, I want to live by that truth and walk, instead, with the empowerment of the One who walks alongside me. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Love the One You're With: A Valentine's Day Post

Sometimes movies really get me thinking, movies like The Vow that display the uncertainty of life and show a testimony to the power of love. I know, it's silly, and I know, for some movies, it's "just a movie," but it's true.I once wrote a similar post about a Nicholas Sparks book....

But the thing is sometimes I forget about the uncertainty of life, and I think we take for granted those little moments we get to experience with the ones we love. Maybe Valentine's Day is just a silly holiday created by greeting card companies and the restaurant industry to make women feel secure about their love relationships. But even still, why not take advantage of a designated day to show your love for someone? Why not take advantage of every day?

My theme this year has been about living life fully. On my mirror, I have two things I read every day. The first says that "Today is a gift." The second says, "Live by faith. Live by grace. Live life fully. You get to choose." Every day is a gift, and I realized last night every day is also another blessing that I get to walk out with the greatest gift God gave me - my husband.

I know I am so blessed to be married to my best friend. And I know our marriage is rare. It's rare that we enjoy spending so much time together, that we enjoy doing the same things. I never knew I would find someone I would never tire of being with. And I know I have a rare husband in Hal, too. Someone who helps with the cleaning, loads the dishwashers, folds clothes, drives me to school any chance he can, comes home for lunch or for a break, just to see me. He really is amazing, and our love really is one of those once-in-a-lifetime kind of loves.

We left the movie last night (we saw The Vow), and we joked about whether we would find each other again if something like that happened to us. I don't want to think about something that tragic, but it did make me mindful of every moment we get together. Every second we have in this lifetime. I don't want to waste time with petty arguments or even unimportant and misplaced priorities. Instead, I want to be grateful, to take notice, and to make memories. I want to remember the days we have together. I prayed last night, as I often do, that we would have a lifetime to share, that God would extend our days together, a long-lasting marriage, an extraordinary marriage.

So what if today is a silly holiday? Love the one you're with. Remember your time together. Be grateful for the moments you share.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Faith in His Attributes

I am departing from my attribute list because I wanted to share two different attributes of God that I found while reading Romans 4. The passage from verses 13 to 25 describes the faith of Abraham to believe God for His promise - for which, God accounted it to him as righteousness; we have the same righteousness accounted to us when we believe. But, in the midst of these verses, in a chapter I once memorized for a Beth Moore Bible Study, two attributes of God stood out:

  1. God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did (verse 17)
  2. God, who is able to perform what he has promised (verse 21)

Abraham believed "contrary to hope" what was spoken to him (verse 18). He did not look at the circumstances around him or at his own physical limitations (verse 19). Instead, it says, "He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what God had promised, he was also able to perform" (verses 20-21).

The reason Abraham could stand firm in his faith, believing on the promises of God, is because he knew God, and, moreover, he knew the attributes of God. He knew God to be the creator of life, the only one who could plant the seed of his offspring; he knew God to be able to perform that which he had promised. When we stand on who God is, what we know of Him, our faith is strengthened, and we can believe him for His promises.

I will believe contrary to hope. I will not get discouraged by circumstances. I will not waver in unbelief. I will be fully convinced my God is able! Will you?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Sovereignty of God

I had a blog post all ready on attribute #5: the sovereignty of God. To be honest, this is an attribute I'm sometimes uncomfortable with, so I had this whole thing written out, balancing our free will and choice with God's omniscience and sovereignty - that He is in sovereign control, that His plan cannot be thwarted, but that he allows us to choose the narrow or the wide, obedience or disobedience.

But I really felt like none of that was what God wanted me to share. This isn't a blog post about theology - it's about His attribute of sovereignty. So, instead, I'd like to share one of the most powerful moments in my life when I have seen God's sovereignty.

The verse in Acts says, "And [He] has determined their preappointed times and the boundary of their dwellings. As one theologian puts it, "Divine sovereignty means God is God in fact, and in name, that He is on the throne of the universe, directing all things, working all things 'after the counsel of His will.'"

For some, the way life happens is just by chance, by karma (or, by the way, the biblical principle of sowing and reaping??), or by fate, as if fate were something God-like, the work of the universe, the stars aligning, etc. But, as Christians, we believe in God's sovereignty. Jeremiah 29:11 is often quoted, but I love that it says He knows the plans He has for me. Regardless of my circumstances or what is before me - whether good or bad - I can trust that it's within God's sovereign plan for my life. Not to be cliché, but I can truly have a hope for my life because I know that He works all things to the good of those who love Him. That doesn't mean life will always be good; it means regardless of what I face, it will strengthen me, sanctify me, conform me, and refine me. Anything He allows to happen, anything the enemy tries to do, or anything I choose in my flesh - He knows, and He works according to His plan for my life.

So, my story. I never blogged this story because I think, at the time, it was too real to process. In the summer of 2010, Hal and I took a mission trip to Guatemala. I am not exaggerating when I say within two days of our trip (Day 8 and 9), there was a volcanic eruption in Guatemala City, an earthquake, landslides, and a tropical storm. Because "news" in a third-world country isn't delivered quite as quickly or (I can't believe I'm about to say this...) accurately as it does in the U.S., we had no idea what was going on. We knew about the volcano; we knew nothing else. And so, our team takes off in a fifteen-passenger van to drive back to Guatemala City because we think it's okay to do so. The eruption is over and (supposedly) where we are going in the city, the volcanic ash is not too bad.

Unfortunately, we were heading into the middle of a tropical storm (what had been a hurricane and was now "on land") that was causing landslides on the highway. This highway was the major highway in Guatemala, so it was our only route to the city. However, because it was cut out of the side of the mountain, the falling boulders from the wind and rain of the storm could literally send your vehicle over the other side of the mountain. With only two lanes of "road," there was little wiggle room even to swerve. As we drove, there were moments when huge boulders would fall literally a few feet in front of our van, but we would brake just in time, or these rocks would fall just seconds after we passed. We crossed two bridges that - not long after we passed by - completely fell because of the force of the flooding waters. Did I mention the highway is laid out next to a river, as well?

When we arrived in Antigua (because we could not actually get to Guatemala City), we learned that the officials had closed the highway only half an hour to an hour after we completed our trip because so many had died or were injured. At that point, the number we heard for the death toll was less than a hundred; by the morning and the next few days, we would learn that it was over two hundred. Just on that road - not from the volcano, not from the earthquake; just from landslides and flooding on the same road we took, on the same day we took it, at the same time we were traveling.

For 11 hours, we were on this road. What was only about 280 miles took 11 hours because we could only drive 10 or 20 miles an hour, in case we needed to brake; not to mention, we could barely see because of the sheets of rain. I seriously prepared myself to be in an accident or die. At the time, I don't even think we knew the severity of the storm. But we prayed that God would protect us.

I truly see that day as miraculous. I've never experienced the full wrath of a natural disaster. But I see God's sovereign hand, acting in that situation. When the possibility - even the likelihood - of death was so near, He saved us.

God's sovereignty is real. However, we have to submit to Him, to bring our hearts into alignment with His plan. Will He let us get off path? Absolutely. We get to choose. Choose today to rest in the sovereignty of His will, to find peace in the comfort of His plan, and to submit yourself to His path and His boundaries.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

God is Sufficiency

I have been thinking about the truth that God is in need of nothing, that he is sufficiency. As a dependent creature, this is both humbling and difficult to grasp intellectually. Even if I weren't a Believer, and thus, weren't thinking in terms of my dependent need for a Savior, I still have other dependent needs that make me human: the physical need for water, food, and air; the emotional need for affection, community, and acceptance. And, as one who recognizes my spiritual needs as well, add to those lists the need for forgiveness (mercy), grace, and unconditioned love. I need those things for my own spirit, and then I need His Holy Spirit to live and to walk out each day. So, my spiritual needs are two-fold: for salvation and for sanctification.

And yet, God is in need of nothing. In fact, no comparison can be made. As Arthur Pink puts it, "He is solitary in His majesty, unique in His excellency, peerless in His perfection. He sustains all, but is himself independent of all. He gives to all, but is enriched by none" (The Attributes of God, p. 12). When I say He is sufficiency, that literally means He is the quality of being sufficient.

On the one hand, there is a certain confidence gained, a certain assurance found in the knowledge that He is sufficient. It means He is stable. It means He is immutable. And it means I can trust Him completely. He is secure because He is sufficient.

On the other hand, this is quite humbling. It means God is not now nor was He ever in need of anything from me. The verse that inspired me to add this to my list was Acts 17:25: "Nor is He worshiped by men's hands, as if He needed anything." If ever I thought this relationship was equal or reciprocal, I am wrong. He is all sufficient; I am all need.

It's humbling because it forces me to not think more highly of myself than I ought, but it's also humbling to wrap my brain around the gravity, the magnitude of this truth. Our salvation was not for ourselves, nor was it because He needed to save us. It was, as Ephesian 2:7 puts it, "to show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." Or, as stated in Ephesians 1:5, it was "according to the good pleasure of His will." In short - it was His own demonstration of His own character (graciousness, kindness, goodness), for His own glorification.

In my pride, not only do I fool myself, acting as if I were the sufficient one, but I also irreverently approach God as if He were like me, as if He were in need of an exchange from me: the games and manipulations - "If I do this, then You do that." How foolish! Anything God ever does for me is because of His own goodness to demonstrate His own glory - not because He needs to and certainly not because I ever deserve or earn it.

What I have realized in seeking after this attribute of God is both a renewed humility and a reverence toward our God who is unlike any other being, toward a God "above all praise" (Nehemiah 9:5 - literally meaning He is sufficient even without our praise), and toward a God who chose, out of His own goodness, to call me His, to bless me greatly, and to be near me always. I pray that I would always be humbled with an accurate perception of reality: the reality of my condition and dependent need, and the reality of His perfection, his sufficiency - the total and complete picture of lacking nothing.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

God is boundless

When I see the attribute that God is boundless, the main thing that comes to mind is the fact that He is not bound by time. I have learned in the last six or seven months that God is not on my schedule--in fact, he is not bound by time at all. This morning, I was reading the end of Acts, in which Paul is accused by the Jews and taken before several judges to determine his fate.

What I had never thought about before is how much time passes in these last five or six chapters. Although Paul often faced resistance or persecution in his ministry (he had conflict in nearly every city he visited), he had not experienced as lengthy of a process as he does at the end of Acts. Even when he is arrested with Silas (See Acts 16), he is only imprisoned for one night. And he received his circumstance with joy. I believe that night was preparing him to persevere and endure an even greater challenge--three or four years in captivity.

We know from the time Paul was in captivity under Felix, the govenor, until Festus replaces Felix is two years. It's not clear how much time passes between Paul's appearance before Festus and later King Agrippa and later his appearance in Rome, but we know at least one winter passes on his journey to Rome. These chapters, while not always time-explicit, remind us that Paul spent a lot of time waiting:

At first, time seems to pass quickly:
  • "The next day..." (22:30)
  • "The following night..." (23:11)
  • "When he had arrived..." (23:33)
But then, time passes a little more slowly:
  • "After five days..." (24:7)
  • "After some days..." (24:24)
  • "But after two years..." (24:27)
  • "After three days..." (25:13)
  • "When they had been there many days..." (25:14)
From there, time becomes even less certain:
  • "And when it was decided that we should sail to Italy..." (27:1) 
  • "When we had sailed slowly many days.." (27:7)
  • "Now when much time had been spent..." (27:9)
  • "When the south wind blew..." (27:13)
  • "But not long after..." (27:14)
  • "Now when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days..." (27:20)
Then, time becomes more specific again:
  • "Now when the fourteenth night had come..." (27:27)
  • "After three months..." (28:11)
  • "We stayed three days..." (28:12)
  • "And after one day....and the next day..." (28:15)
  • "After three days..." (28:17)
  • "Then Paul dwelt two whole years..." (28:30)
 Obviously, these are a lot of examples, but I was really struck by the passage of time in these chapters. Sometimes, our seasons are clearly defined by time, but most times, they are not, and they feel more like "When many days had passed' or "After some time..." It's easy, in hindsight, to count time, but in the midst, we do not always know how long this circumstance will last. Paul, however, never lost heart. With joy and with confidence, he also never wavered in his position, and at the end of this trial, he was given favor, his life was spared, and his ministry continued in Rome.

Now, I began this post by stating Attribute #3 - God is boundless. He is not bound by time. He is everlasting. A pastor in Amarillo recently preached that God's time is kairos and ours is chronos (See "Acts 3 - God's Timing"). Our time is bound. It is fixed. It is defined and limited to 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year. Our time is measured.

But God is eternal. That He is boundless means He stands outside our chronos time. This is why His timing is not on "our schedule." This is why some parts of our journey are clearly defined ("After three days..." or "The next day..."), but the "middle stuff" often feels so vague ("After some time.." ). But trust in this: because He is not limited by time (in fact, He is not limited by anything), His timing is perfect. Submit your time, your chronos to his perfect timing - kairos - and trust that He holds your today and your tomorrow in His hands.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

He is Lord over everything

Last week I asked God to show me Himself. I want to know Him, not as words on a page, but by experiencing who He is. I made a list of 10 attributes I feel He gave me - certainly not a complete list, but a starting point. The next attribute on my life is:

#2 - He is Lord over everything

On Wednesday, shortly after publishing my last post, I looked ahead at the next attribute. I was spending time in the Word, and I pondered looking up verses about His sovereignty, about His status as ruler or authority, about His omnipresence or His omnipotence. But instead, I just closed my eyes, and I said, "God, I want to experience you. I want to experience that you are Lord over everything."

Well, those are dangerous words to pray! In the quietness of a quiet time, words are sometimes empty, sometimes too easy to whisper. Then our day begins! Well, this particular day was going to be a juggling act of spinning plates. I had to teach from 2:00 to 3:20, and I was booked on a flight at 4:20 to Houston to see my best friend. Hal had clients at work in town for meetings and presentations, but we had worked it out so that he could take me to school, pick me up, and take me to the airport. I had a very small window between school and take-off time!

But, about fifteen minutes after I prayed that little prayer, "I want to experience you...", Hal calls and his meeting and presentation is now at 3:00 instead of 1:00, and he cannot take me to the airport. My first reaction isn't always so pleasant. Thank God He gives us second chances! I just stopped and prayed. Okay, God. Work this out. You are Lord.

And He did. The whole day was a lot like that. It was a day of changed plans, unexpected interruptions, discomfort, and even pain (I also picked up strep throat on Wednesday--as I was en route to Houston!). But at the end of the day, I was overwhelmed with His sovereignty. After the first little hiccup with Hal's change of plans, I got better at seeing His Lordship--and better at responding in awe. Each opportunity, I didn't panic. I just smiled. God, this is one more chance for me to see that you are Lord.

It wasn't a day of some major event or happening in my life. No grand miracles. No lepers healed, or lame men walking. But, it was a miracle. The whole day. And each time I got to see Him working something new out. Each time I got to see Him take control and take care of me.

My faith was strengthened. My heart was warmed. He truly loves us enough to take care of us. He loves us so much that He does work it out. And we can see it so much better when we choose to respond, to make the right choice--the choice that doesn't get upset or bent out of shape, the choice that says, You are sovereign, and I trust you. You are Lord over everything!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Discovering God's Attributes

Discovering God's Attributes
As far back as August, God has been revealing to me the need to seek and know Him. I might seem a little behind since I've been a Christian for 9 years (almost 10)! But this is a different journey than knowing about Him; it's about experiencing Him on a different level than I've ever experienced. It's not about reading in black and white that He is good; it's about tasting His goodness. And even on Monday, I told Him my heart's desire was to discover Him all over again.

So, I have asked Him to show me who He is, to remind me again of His character and His attributes. Part of this, I know He will reveal through Scripture, but part of this I desire to experience for myself. I want to know Him beyond mere knowledge. 

This week, He lead me to a passage in Acts that is rich with His attributes. These 8 verses (Acts 17:24-31) tell us who God is:
  1. God is creator
  2. God is Lord over everything
  3. God is boundless (He does not dwell in our man-made buildings)
  4. God is in need of nothing (He is sufficiency)
  5. God is author and determiner of our plan (He is sovereign)
  6. God is near us
  7. God is our life-support ("In Him, we live and move and have our being.")
  8. God is our Daddy (We are his offspring)
  9. God is not man-made nor is he contained in man-made artifacts (See #3)
  10. God is judge
 This list is, I'm sure, only the beginning, but I want to take these attributes and look at them individually, starting with God as Creator.

#1 - God is Creator
I think it's interesting that in this passage, this attribute appears first, for it is, in some ways, foundational to the Christian faith. We believe, by faith, that God created the world and everything in it, that it was not some random act but was by design. To believe that we are created beings separates us from atheists and agnostics.

Using Scripture, we might point to Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth." Or John 1:3, "All things were made through him, and without him, nothing was made that was made." I heard an apologist once say that the English word "made" that we use here is so weak compared to the full expression or meaning of "come into being" or "come into existence."

But for those who don't accept our Bible or believe it to be fully true, I say - look around! How can it be an accident that no two humans have the same DNA, the same internal make-up? We have 7 or 8 billion people on this planet; how could that be possible, except by intelligent design?

Long ago, scientists would say there was order and structure in science that accounts for the sense of perfection and symmetry we see in creation. Now, they want to say, it's chaos and random; it's unknowable and unpredictable. But what I hear them saying, what they describe are the attributes of God - perfect, ordered, yet unknowable and unpredictable. He expresses himself in nature.

So what does it mean that God is creator? It means He is creative, artistic, and attentive. He gives attention to every detail. It means He purposed us as beings and made us unique. As we've often heard, "We are fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139: 14). But ponder that. And lastly, it means He was not only careful in His creation, but He carefully attends to us with the same tenderness: "Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Matthew 6:26)

Today, let's not only experience God our creator - through the magnificence of His creation and the uniqueness of our beings - let's also hold fast to the assurance we have in Him as creator, that He cares for us, He watches over us, He sees our every need.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Living Life Fully

Life is passing by, and I am missing it. I am not living. I don't live eucharisteo (see Ann Voskamp's book).  I don't live life to the fullest. I just sit, resting on the bench, a passive participant.

I want to be a better.... everything. Someone who prays. Someone who lives by faith. Someone who follows through, who finishes what she began. Someone who commits. Someone with discipline and diligence. Someone who trusts. And risks. And leaps. And dreams. I want to live.

But to be honest, the task seems so daunting. And I think part of me doesn't know how to even begin. God told me almost a year ago, "When life gets hard, when you feel like I've not answered your prayers, that's when you press in the most. Speak truth and believe it!" But, as great as that sounds, it's also not so simple.

I know I need to press in, but how? I know I need to speak truth, but what? I read all these amazing books, and I think Yes! Yes, that's for me: a dare to live fully, right where I am; a dare to live by His extraordinary grace; a dare to break free from intimidation. But the sun comes up (often while my eyes are closed), and the sun goes down. And I am the same. I am unchanged. I am a hearer, only.

But I am learning... I am in control of the choices I make. I get to choose life or death. I get to choose faith or doubt. I get to choose grace or failure. I get to choose dreams or fear. I want to make good choices, to live by good habits, to develop a godly character, to live by the Holy Spirit.

And while I can control the choices I make, how I'm going to live or respond, some thing are outside my control. And, as Susan Bozarth said this weekend, I must learn to be content with my reality. Hal and I have been praying and hoping for some things in our life, but life is what it is. And God's timing is one of those things that is just simply out of my control. And I have to be content with that. I have to trust that He has the best plan, the best timing, the best future.

Oh Lord, that you would hear me, that you would see me: raw, vulnerable, real, open, honest. I do not like what I see, but you have made me new. You have redeemed me. I need to know that. And I need to know you. Just you. Not anything that you could do for me, but just who you are. I want to know who you are. I want to be in awe, in reverence, in holy fear of you. I want to know you. May that be what drives me, what motivates me, what gets me out of bed each morning with excitement. Just you. Who are you are. The gift of a new day. The chance to know you, to discover who you are. 

** Live by faith. Live by grace. Live fully. You get to choose how you live today. **