Living As Though We Are Dying

As my Monday night small group works its way through Crazy Love, I am amazed at the parallel of my life to the things we are reading about.  I shouldn’t be, I know God is amazing, but it catches me every time.  I know God is using this study to help me become the woman I really want to be, to help me turn my back on the woman I have been, the one who will do anything to please the people in her life, seeking their approval because of my feelings of low self-worth.  There is the root cause of my current depression.  The cure for that, God’s unconditional love.  God is faithful, He knows exactly what I need and ensures it is within my reach.

The question posed in our Crazy Love study last night was to think of someone I know who died abruptly.  What were the achievements in their life and what were their regrets?  Since there has been a bit of death amongst my acquaintances in the past couple of years it wasn’t too difficult to come up with an answer. 

As we discussed this answer my mind drifted off.  Once I am gone how will people perceive me and my life?  What have I achieved?  What are my regrets and will others know of them?  Francis Chan asks “If today was the day you died, what would you regret and why?  What can you change about your life today to avoid those regrets?” 

This blog post by Michael Hyatt appeared in my mailbox Monday morning but I didn’t read it until yesterday.  I know God planned it that way, He does stuff like that to get my attention.  I just love the way it tied into Monday evening’s lesson and the questions I have been asking myself.

What have I achieved with my life?  There are many things.  Looking at my life from a secular perspective I accomplished being the best mother I was capable of being at the time, a good employee, a great cook and a watercolor artist with a modest talent.  But it’s not secular accomplishments I want to be known for.  Do people know the depth and breadth of my faith?  Do they know my heart for the poor and hurting?  Do they know that I, just like them, struggle in my daily walk?  Do they know I hunger and thirst to know more of God, to build a closer relationship with Him?  I’m not discussing the people in my small group, I know their view of me, I am discussing the other people in my life, my parents, my children, the people who sit around me in church.  I am discussing my neighbors, my co-workers and my friends.  Do they know me?

The best way to ensure this is to let my faith speak for itself.  How do I do that?  James speaks to this very topic in the first chapter of his book: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.  Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.  Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.  If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  –James 1:19 – 27 

Ay! That was a long passage, but it has one very important message:  Do not be fooled into thinking that just because you say you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior you are saved.  If you truly have accepted Jesus as Lord of your life than your actions will reflect that.  Accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior means you have surrendered your life to Him.  It means that your greatest desire is to walk in obedience to Him.  Does my life reflect that?  Will people look at my actions and my behavior and know that I am a sold-out for the Lord Christian?  It is my opinion that you are not saved if you go to church every weekend and warm a seat in your favorite pew and then return home and live a secular life.  I believe that saving faith means you become a bond servant to Christ.

Monday evening my friends and I spoke of people whose lives reflected Christ.  I spoke of how I believe my life falls far short of what Christ asks of me.  My life, even though it is a life of service to Christ, has reflected anger and self-centeredness.  I have complained and moaned and griped my way through some of the toughest times in my life.  I have been angry with those who treated me in a manner I felt was unfair.  I blamed other people for the set-backs and failures in my life.  Recently I have begun to change that by taking responsibility for my actions and by looking for things in my life which I am grateful for.  My next step will be to stop complaining, as Michael Hyatt suggests in the post I mentioned earlier.  No matter what pain I am going through it is between me and Jesus.  I want my life to be one that reflects God’s love and grace and mercy.  I want my life to be one that brings praise and glory to my Savior’s name. 

My plan is to live my life as if every day could be my last.  I believe that will help me to live the rest of my life with no regrets.  I want to live as if I am dying, for I truly am, I am dying to Christ every day for the rest of my life.

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Posted in confessions, Crazy Love, Faith, Gratitude, Love, pain, Praise, prayer | Leave a comment

Crazy, Crazy Love

Long time, no write, eh?  Actually, I have been writing, it’s just been over on my other blog.  I’ve been writing about my daily life and gratitude.  It is important to be grateful to God in our lives, after all, it is His command, “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  –Thessalonians 5:16-18.  Sometimes that is easier said than done.  It is difficult for me to give thanks when I am not in the mood.  It is difficult for me to give thanks when I am sad or depressed.  It is difficult for me to give thanks when I am angry.  So I have been intentionally writing about gratitude on my “Go, Send or Disobey” blog.  I started that blog originally to write about missions.  However, I think remembering to be grateful every day is an important part of missions.  Therefore, my “Attitude of Gratitude” posts reside on my missions blog.

However, what I want to write about today speaks about God.  It speaks about who He is and the relationship I am striving to have with Him.  Therefore, I am posting on this blog.  This blog where I reflect upon God and who He is in my life, what I am learning about Him and where He and I are headed (hopefully together).

For those of you who have not read my “Go, Send or Disobey” blog:  I am a member of a small group Bible study that meets on Monday evenings.  We started out by studying Lysa TerKeurst’s “Made to Crave” (twice) and then Mark Hall’s (of Casting Crowns fame) “The Well.”  Both were wonderful studies and I learned a lot from them.  Monday night we started a new book, we started “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan. 

This book first appeared on my radar while I was in Brazil.  One of our team members was reading and commenting upon the book.  Now I have a confession to make.  Although I was curious about the book I resisted reading it at the time because I was sorta jealous of the girl reading it.  I had reasons I wasn’t very proud of (I’m still not proud of my behavior) but they did get in the way of an authentic relationship with this girl.  They still do sometimes.  Anyways, I eventually went out and bought the book and read it.  WHAM!  It hit me between the eyes.  If you haven’t read this book put down the blog, go buy and read this book.  It is life changing.

In chapter one Francis Chan poses the question: “What do you think would come out of your mouth the moment you first saw God?  What would be the first words you would say?”  Think about this…  standing in front of you is the person who created everything.  EVERYTHING!  Do you realize how immense that is?  Do you fathom the entirety of existence?  It is just too huge for our finite minds to imagine, and here in front of us stands the creator of it all, the creator of you and the creator of me.  I originally thought my first words would be “Oh.My.GOD!”  However, after thinking about it for a while I think I would be speechless.  I believe I would be falling on my face, a quivering mass of emotion.  I would be crying, sobbing actually, much like Simon Peter when he said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”  God is so Holy, Holy, Holy that I do not deserve to be in His presence.  Overcome, overwhelmed and so completely awed I cannot imagine being able to utter a single squeak, least of all actual words.

Now I believe Francis Chan’s point, and the topic of this week’s discussion is this: “Why don’t we pray this way?  Why don’t we pray to God as if we were standing in His presence?”  And another important question, “What is stopping us from doing exactly that?”

So the point of my blog is not to discuss that question as much as it is to ask it.  It is to put that question out there and ask what can I do in my life, what can you do in your life, to pray to God as if we are standing face to face with Him in His presence?  Because, if you think about it — I am and you are, too.  That is, after all, the very definition of omnipresent. 

This week I am sitting down with myself to look at the way I pray.  I have always maintained that prayer is a dialog with God.  There’s one major problem with that.  I have the tendency to pray at God, not pray to God.  I often forget that communication with God is a two-way street, unless, of course, I want something from Him.  I need to become more intentional about listening for God’s responses.  If He was sitting with me, conversing with me I would be listening to Him, wouldn’t I?  I wouldn’t want to interrupt His responses, I wouldn’t want to tell Him that I know better than He does or that I don’t need Him to tell me something, right? 

My challenge to myself, and to you, is to be conscious about His presence as we pray to Him this week.  Pay attention to how we are praying and see how our prayer life changes.  I’m betting that our prayer lives will become deeper and more intimate.  I’m pretty sure that is what Francis Chan intended when he wrote chapter one of Crazy Love.

Posted in confessions, Crazy Love, Faith, Gratitude, Love, missions, Praise, prayer, questions, Spiritual maturity | 2 Comments

The Attributes of God – The Ugly Ones…

I mentioned once before, months ago really, that I was reading a book called, “A Great and Terrible Love, A Spiritual Journey into the Attributes of God” by Mark Galli.  The author discusses all the familiar attributes: God’s eternality, His omnipotence, His omnipresence, His righteousness and the like.  He also discusses a few I haven’t heard of before, attributes that aren’t so familiar and that we probably wouldn’t willingly acknowledge or discuss.  Attributes like God’s wrath, His jealousy, His mystery and His suffering.  I mean, who wants to acknowledge that their God is a wrathful God, a jealous God or a God who suffers?  Who wants to admit that their God is  so mysterious that He can’t be figured out?  I believe there is much to be learned about God and the relationship He desires to have with us by examining these “less than desirable” attributes of His.  I want to address wrath and jealousy today.

One side of God that many Christians of today decline to talk about or even acknowledge about is the wrathful God of the Old Testament.  A lot of people have a difficult time relating to the fire and brimstone found in the Old Testament, especially the parts where God tells the Israelites to wipe out entire people groups.  I know people who even struggle with God’s punishment of those who disobey Him.  They find His wrath inconsistent with His goodness.  They resent it, find it an embarrassment or blemish on His character.  They would like to hide it or pretend it does not exist.  God’s wrath is not an embarrassment.  God’s wrath is not a delusion or a mistake.  God’s wrath is real and necessary.  Personally, I like the wrathful God of the Old Testament.  Now, don’t go all wonky on me here, there a perfectly good reason for my affection towards Him.  Shall I explain?

God is holy.  Because God is holy He is both good and wrathful.  The thing is, this wrath is not directed at us, it is not directed at the people He loves so deeply and unconditionally.  The Lord’s wrath is directed at our sins.  He just cannot abide sin in any way, shape or form.  Please understand, I am not saying God is wrathful towards sinners.  I am saying God is wrathful towards sin.  Just because a person is caught up in sin does not mean God does not love that person.  On the contrary, it means that God loves that person so much that He cannot stand sin and the consequences that sin is having in that person’s life.  Many, many people, myself included, have misunderstood that one little fact for far too long.  So God’s wiping out of entire people groups?  They are groups who have proved themselves committed to sin and not a loving, merciful God.  God’s discipline?  His way of telling us that sin is not acceptable in our lives and showing us the correct path to follow.  His wrath is very consistent with His love and mercy if you look at it in that light.  If He didn’t love us He wouldn’t be so wrathful.  Kinda like our parents telling us the spanking would hurt them more than us.

Well, you might be saying, okay, maybe wrath is a good thing after all.  Maybe it is a sign of a loving God.  But jealousy?  How can jealousy be a good thing?  Again I believe it’s a sin thing.  What is the first commandment?  You know, the one right at the very top of the list.  Here’s the passage in Exodus that lists them.  The very first one, the one at the very top of the list is this: “You shall have no other gods before me.”  God wants to be number one on our priority lists.  He wants nothing to come between Himself and us.  Think of all the things we tend to worship: food, money, television, sex, power and celebrities, just to name a few.  Which of those things actually loves us in return?  Which of those things has our best interests at heart?  None of them.  I know food can be good for us, in moderation, but too much is not a good thing.  Actually, the same can be said for almost everything on that list and all the other idols we erect in out lives.  God desires to be number one in our lives because He knows how desperately we need Him.  He has given us the freedom to choose our master, but He knows He is the best one for us and only wants the best for us. 

God’s wrath and His jealousy both spring from His love for us.  If He didn’t love us so deeply and unconditionally He would have no reason for either of those attributes.  I, for one, am glad He is that way.  I exist for the embrace of His everlasting love.

 

 

Posted in Blessings, Faith, Hope, jealousy, Love, mystery, pain, questions, Spiritual maturity, suffering, wrath | 2 Comments

Gratitude

I have actually been working on this post since July 26th.  The problem is I have a painting in my head I need to get onto paper.  Likewise, I have a post I need to get into the computer.  So, while I’m painting I am thinking of my post, and vice versa.  So I am compromising, my netbook is sitting on the edge of my painting table.  I hope this doesn’t affect the quality of either of them. 

Weekends at church I sit in the front row and take notes.  I do this for a number of reasons, the main one being I will remember what the pastor said more clearly if I take notes.  Sometimes my notes just consist of a word or two, sometimes I write volumes.  I do tend to go back and review what I’ve written sometimes, especially if the topic is related to something I’m writing about here.  I don’t see a lot of people taking notes in church but there are more than I expected. 

Gratitude is a huge subject.  The importance of gratitude has recently been impressed upon me.  For the past few weeks every passage of scripture, every devotional, every book, every conversation somehow tied back to the topic of gratitude.  Okay, some of the references were a little oblique but they managed to point me in the direction of gratitude all the same.  For that reason I thought I would sit down and work out my thoughts on the topic of gratitude.

First, I thought I’d start with the dictionary definition.  I got this from Dictionary.com:

grat·i·tude

  /ˈgræt ɪˌtud, -ˌtyud/  [grat-i-tood, -tyood]–noun

the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful: He expressed his gratitude to everyone on the staff.

Origin:
1400–50; late Middle English < Medieval Latin grātitūdin-  (stem of grātitūdō ) thankfulness, equivalent to grāt ( us ) pleasing + -i- -i- + -tūdin- -tude

—Related forms

o·ver·grat·i·tude, noun

un·grat·i·tude, noun

 —Synonyms
thanks, thankfulness, appreciation, gratefulness.

Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2011.
Cite This Source

Word Origin & History

gratitude

c.1500, from M.L. gratitudo  “thankfulness,” from L. gratus  “thankful, pleasing” (see grace).

The quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful.  And when I look up thankful it says “feeling or expressing gratitude”.  I felt like I was running around in circles.   Until I read the rest of the definition: appreciative.  Well, now I could look up appreciative and then appreciation and end up circling back to gratitude again.  So I decided to stop looking up definitions and look in another direction. 

You know where I went next.  Yup, the Bible.  So I plugged the word “gratitude” into BibleStudyTools.com and selected “NIV.”  I got two references.  Acts 24:3 says, “Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude.” and Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”  I know they discuss gratitude more than 2 times in the Bible.  Why, I know I plugged the word into another search engine and got pages and pages of references.  Now let me see, where did I put that list???

Hmmm, I got three double-columned pages of references but when looking at them the references don’t always include the word “gratitude.”  Great, I love synonyms, they help clarify meanings.  So here are the references I found to be most helpful to me.  Your list may be different, as I said, I found three pages of references, 2 columns per page. 

  1. Gratitude is commanded: Psalms 50:14 “Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High.”
  2. Gratitude should be offered through Christ: Colossians 3:17 “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” 
  3. Gratitude should be offered in the name of Christ: Ephesians 5:20 “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
  4. Gratitude should be offered in everything: Thessalonians 5:18 “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”
  5. Gratitude should be offered always:  Ephesians 5:19,20  “speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
  6. Gratitude should be given for the goodness and mercy of God:  Psalm 106:1  “Praise the Lord.  Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” 
  7. Gratitude should be given for the nearness of God: Psalm 75:1  “We give thanks to You, O God, we give thanks, for Your Name is near, men tell of Your wonderful deeds.”

There are so many examples of gratitude in the Bible.  I believe it is because gratitude is something the Lord wants us to remember and hold onto and practice, practice, practice.  There are many benefits to making gratitude a regular practice in your life.  Chief among them is the positive influence gratitude will have on your life.  I know that when I practice gratitude it saturates my life with peace and serenity.  It drowns anger and hostility.  Gratitude prepares the way for joy and happiness in my life. 

On my “Obeying” blog I am attempting to list up to 5 things everyday that I am grateful for in my life.  These five things can be large things or little things.  They just need to be things that I can go to the Lord and express my gratitude for.  I challenge you to do the same thing and see what a change gratitude can make in your life.

Posted in Faith, Gratitude, Hope, Love, missions, Praise | 5 Comments

James 1:2 – 4

One of the most difficult questions asked by believers and non-believers both is, “Why did God allow this to happen?”  Or the same question in one of its many variations: “Why does He allow pain and tragedy in our lives?”  “Why do young and or innocent people die?”  “Why does He allow divorce? separation? illness? accidents? poverty? hunger? malnutrition? child abuse? spousal abuse? Why? Why? Why?”  I must admit, I am right there with them, asking the same questions.  I’m not a Biblical Theologian but with a little help from my pastor and a few other sources, maybe I can help with this question, maybe. 

I remember sitting in a Youth Group meeting the Monday evening after September 11, 2001.  There were at least 10 teenagers there, including 2 of my own.  We were all sitting there, no one was in the mood for the silly games and playful antics that so often filled the first half of our meetings.  Most of us, the teens especially, were still numb and in shock from the happenings of a few days before.  Our leader, Debbi, made the decision we should just all sit and the leaders, myself included, would answer any questions the teens had to the best of our ability.  The problem was, when the teens asked why God had allowed this tragedy to happen, none of us could sufficiently answer the question.  It has been a question that has haunted me ever since.

Last month the pastor of our church started a series in James.  He has entitled it, “Wise Up” calling the Book of James the Book of Proverbs of the New Testament.  If I remember correctly, James is one of the first books of the New Testament I read straight through after my divorce.  I read it straight through because of James 1:2-4: Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever 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.   So when this new series was announced I was very excited.  I love the book of James and consider James 1:2-4 to be my “life verse.”  Is that sad?  A verse about trials and hardships as my life verse.  Oh boy.

Another verse I love is Jeremiah 29:11.  This verse is familiar to a lot of people, even quite a few non-Christians: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Both these verses speak volumes to my heart.  But they speak even more when you read them in context, not just as isolated verses.  If you read them in context you understand more of what the Lord is trying to tell us here.  So let’s step back to Jeremiah 29:11 but this time I am going to quote through verse 14: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity.  I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”  Doesn’t reading this verse in context give it more flavor, more dimension?  This was a message God sent to His people after being taken into captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon.  He was telling them that there would be an end to their exile, in 70 years.  He was telling them to disregard the false prophets telling them this exile would be short.  He was telling them to build homes and families and to seek peace and prosperity in the land to which they had been exiled.  God had a plan and a purpose for a 70 year exile.  He wanted His people to know that it would be 70 years before they went home but He would watch over them and make them thrive in the meantime.  As the Babylonians came and took the people of Judah into captivity many people asked why.  Those who resisted, those who fought against the Babylonians are the ones who refused to listen to Jeremiah when he explained. 

Where am I going with this?  What does Jeremiah have to do with James?  Well, six weeks ago our pastor explained it this way, “Whenever a trial comes into your life it always brings you the potential for something good.” (italics mine)  He also said, “That something good is the opportunity for our faith to grow up.”  Read James 1:2-4 in context:  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever 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.  If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.  The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position.  But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass way like a wild flower.  For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed.  In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.  Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”  James promises us that if we practice joy through our trials, if we hold steadfast to our faith and look to the future outcome that we will be blessed with the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.  Our Christian faith will blossom and mature.  We may never completely understand why we are going through the trials of our lives, for God’s ways are higher than ours.  But the trials in our lives will always bring us the potential for something good.  We just need to trust God and hold fast to His promises. 

I have another little note here.  Trails are not messes.  Trails are not something we create with our messy thinking and poor decisions.  Trials are things that are out of our control.  If we crash the car because we were speeding, that’s a mess.  If a drunk driver crashes into us as we are driving down the street, that’s a trial (for us, not the drunk).  If you lose your home because of bad financial decisions, that’s a mess.  If a tornado comes and rips your home off its foundations, that’s a trial.   If we make a mess in our life we need to confess it and ask for forgiveness.   If we encounter a trial we need to face it with joy, no matter how hard that is.  God never said it would be easy, just possible with Him at your side.  Here’s a tip: practice giving thanks when faced with a trial.   The word gratitude is derived from the word grace and a person who practices gratitude is filled with grace.   It will be difficult but I will attempt to face any future trials in my life with grace.

Wishing you joy and peace in your life.

Posted in Gratitude, Hope, Love, pain, questions, Spiritual maturity, tragedy | Leave a comment

I’m Baaaack!

I took a break for a while.  Mostly because I was headed off in a different direction and mostly because I wasn’t sure what I was doing here.  So, I’m still not sure what I’m doing here but I’m just gonna follow the Lord’s lead and see what happens. 

I have another blog here on WP.  You can find it here if you really want to.  I’ve been writing almost daily there.  I was going to stop writing here altogether and just keep writing there but for some reason this blog called me back.  We shall see how things work out.

The other blog is more missions focused but it speaks about my gratitude journey as well.  That is explained there as well.  I’ve been greatly blessed since I last wrote here, I believe in part because I have started paying closer attention to the blessings in my life.  This may feel a little schizophrenic for a while but I think I will write my Bible musings here and my missions and gratitude musings on the other blog.  They are going to overlap a bit and that’s okay.  We’ll see how this works for a while.

Posted in Blessings, Faith, Gratitude, Hope, Love, missions, Praise | 2 Comments

Women’s Retreat

Last weekend was my church’s annual Women’s Retreat.  I was anticipating this weekend for a long time.  My friend, Deborah, her sister Kathleen and daughter Jewells were all going to accompany me this year.  I took Friday off work so we could take our time as we drove up to Tahoe, stopping for breakfast and lunch as the whims hit us.  I learned some new stuff about myself on that trip.  Some of it I am still processing.  Some of it I like.  Some of it I dislike, immensely.  I’m still working on it…

More later, maybe even today…

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