Monthly Archives: March 2015

When it Comes to Hope

This morning I got a lovely whiff of early-morning Spring air as I hopped into the family minivan and drove to work this morning. Spring is my favorite season when it comes to the outdoor smells and the weather, but it’s also my favorite season for a different reason: Spring always reminds me of hope. It’s the time of year when something that is cold and dormant and brown and discouraging slowly starts to come to life, one little blade of tender green at a time.

This past week has been admittedly a little rough for our family; one of those weeks that just looks cold and brown and dead and discouraging. Just like the brown before Spring comes, hmm? Or maybe the discouraging before the hope comes. Sometimes I feel like there aren’t any little blades of hope poking up through the brown blegh yet, like it’s still dead winter. But then maybe the hope is there and I just didn’t see it. So what is hope? One of Noah Webster’s definitions of hope reads thus:

Hope – Confidence in a future event; the highest degree of well founded expectation of good.

Not desire for good, or evidence of good, but well founded expectation of good. That’s interesting because it gives no evidence that the person hoping has seen that hope come to pass yet. But it’s also encouraging because there are some days when my over-dramatic emotions make it difficult to see evidences of the things I hope for; and the truth is, you don’t have to be hopeless just because you can’t see it. As He reminded me today, you just have to keep confidently expecting that God will come through and He will work all things for good because He loves you. That’s hope, and it’s the most amazing hope I will ever have to hold onto. No matter what circumstances say to the contrary, I can confidently stand here and say “I know my Redeemer lives, and am persuaded that He is able.”

Psalm 42:11 ~ Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

So whether or not circumstances clear up or the depression goes away as quickly as it came, I choose to cling to God’s promises in His word, because, in this world of shifting sand there is nothing more well-founded that I can confidently expect and hope in.

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My favorite part of the trip to Arizona last week could be summed up in a picture of the sweetest little 3-year-old boy. (I would include it, but WordPress is objecting.) You know the kids that make you wish you were allowed to adopt them? That’s him. This past week I got to love on bunches of little kids like that. It was amazing! But the night before we left for home, our host reminded us of something.

He said that as much as we did there during the week, now it was our job to go home and do it there. That we spent our week ministering in Arizona, and now we needed to go home and do it in Kansas. That we’re all missionaries, no matter where we live. Some of us get sent across the ocean, but others of us are called to reach out right here in the U.S. (God knows our country needs it!)

It reminded me of a verse God laid on my heart several months ago. I get a little restless sometimes in my everyday routine out here in the middle of nowhere, and this was the verse He gave me:

Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:3-4

God put us right where we are for a reason – to dwell there, learn to trust in the Lord, and learn to be faithful in doing good right where we are. To delight in Him right where we are, so that when He moves us we will be able to do the same there.

Applying that to myself, how can I fidget to go somewhere full of exciting ministry opportunities if I’m not first faithful where I already am? How will I be faithful in a totally new environment if I’m not faithful in the one I’m already comfortable in? If I don’t know how to “dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness” right here in the middle of nowhere, I won’t do it when I go somewhere else. It starts here.

It doesn’t take driving out of state to get outside your comfort zone and touch someone, although that’s great. But really, all you have to do is look around, right in your own community. There are hurting people everywhere, but sometimes we get so used to them that we don’t even remember they’re there.

So now that I’ve had my adventure in Arizona, it’s time to buckle down and pursue the adventure in Kansas. Rather than wishing I could be in Arizona or Texas, I need to dwell mentally where I am physically. The future will come soon enough, but in the meantime my Savior calls me to dwell where I am and seek to faithfully serve Him here and now. To do good and trust that He will work out the details.

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Outside My Comfort Zone

The sun hasn’t even thought about stirring yet, but here I am, backpack slung over one shoulder, right hand swinging a pillowcase full of a towel, washcloth, laundry bag, and of course, the pillow itself. I clutch my Bible, journal, prayer notebook, and two other books I’ve been wanting to read close to my chest with the other hand. It will be a long enough drive I have no doubt I’ll get through at least one of them.

I’m leaving at 5:30 a.m. in a giant bus with twenty-nine other sleepy-headed Followers. We’re going somewhere I’ve never been, leaving our time-zone behind to spend the week with people I’ve never met. We’re daring to be a family, the thirty of us, for a week – to reach out to struggling little children.

They call it a mission trip. I call it getting outside my comfort zone. I have to admit, I’m terrified. But that’s okay. Fear is not an end, just a hurdle in the road. All you have to do is jump over it. I guess? 

But this will be good for me. Recently God’s been tugging on my heart with people He wants me to reach out to back home. People that maybe need a little hope. Funny that maybe the practice begins in Arizona.

This year promises to be full of new beyond-comfort-zone things. The first of which begins at 5 a.m. Sunday morning, packing up and hopping (crawling?) onto that bus. Because I figure if I’m scared to do something it’s a pretty good indicator that I ought to do it. (Builds character if nothing else!) I believe God wants His people to live outside their comfort zones; usually that’s where you’ll touch the most people, and It’s also where you have no choice but to trust God for strength and wisdom, etc.

I want to be that kind of person. I want to trust God enough to do terrifying things because He asks me to. The last thing I want to do is turn my back on those quiet little nudges that can mean the world of difference for someone else. I want to be courageous. And courageous is doing things no matter how scared you are to do them.

And what about you? What happens if God nudges you to do something uncomfortable or awkward or terrifying? Can I challenge you to listen to those nudges? If a thought comes that maybe you should visit and encourage someone you barely know, listen to it. Follow through. It just might happen that you will come away encouraged yourself. If He directs your attention to someone who looks lonely, don’t brush it off. Go and reach out. It might be awkward. You might not know what to say. It might be hard. It will most likely be uncomfortable. Our God is bigger than our discomfort, our awkwardness, our blank brains that can’t crank out a single intelligent sentence. He’s bigger than our comfort zones, and He wants us to step out beyond them and touch the people that live out there. The question is, are we willing?

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“Be Prepared”

We’ve been hearing about persecution a great deal recently, especially in Syria. People being brutally treated and often killed. And then everyone in America gets mad and shares pictures around Facebook like that’s going to change something. (Sorry, I probably shouldn’t go there at the moment. It’s kind of beside the point.) *Cough* Where was I? Oh yes…

Tonight I just read Matthew 10 to my little brother as I put him to bed. Verse 39 says:

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

It occurred to me, Jesus was talking about priorities. A person who “finds his life” places a comfortable life as a higher priority than Christ. And whoever “loses his life for My sake” prioritizes Christ first at the expense of his comfort. I think about those Christians in Syria, who are literally losing their lives for Christ. I don’t have to guess about what they place as their highest priority. They are willing to follow Him no matter the cost. These, these are the people of whom Jesus said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” ~ Luke 6:20-23

Blessed are the people who are willing to give up everything in this life, for they will recieve it all and more in the life to come as their reward. Blessed are the people who place Christ as their highet priority, over money, food, laughter, and acceptance. Blessed are those Syrian Christians who willingly give even their lives for the sake of Christ.

And then I think of the church in America, and I’m frightened for her:

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” ~ Luke 6:24-26

Could it be that these verses could apply to us? Are we rich, full, laughing, and well-liked at the expense of our faith? Do we prize our comfort so highly that we are horrified when anyone suggests traveling to the Middle East to be with the Christians who are undergoing persecution – when the Bible clearly calls persecution a blessing and “a gracious thing”? (1 Peter 2:19-21) If we are so afraid, what will happen to us when that persecution arrives in our own country? (And trust me, at the rate we’re going, it will.) Do we place our comfort so high that we will be unwilling to give it up for the sake of Christ?

At STEP Advanced last summer, our group leader challenged us to consider what we wanted more – physical comfort, or Christ, and I have pondered it often since. So now I ask you: which do we, the American church want more? If a day should come when the American government will shut down any church that does not tickle their ears, will we choose our comfortable air-conditioned sanctuaries with nice carpets and padded pews, or will we choose persecution? Which do we want more, comfort or Christ? If ISIS were to invade America and put to death the faithful Christians, will we choose to deny our Savior to save our bodies, or will we stand firm and lose our lives for His sake?

I look at my own life, with its relative comfort. I have a nice room all to myself, nice stuff, a nice job, nice notebooks and paints to keep me happy, wonderful friends to spend time with. I have a pretty easy life. If it came down to it, would I be ready to give it all up for the sake of my Savior? Am I ready to make that big of a sacrifice? It’s a question I have difficulty answering in the affirmative. Why? Because I haven’t prepared myself to sacrifice that much.

I’ve talked about this before, how the little things always come before the big ones. Well, I think it applies in this instance as well. If I want to be able to make that big sacrifice someday, I must first sacrifice the little things now. I can start by sacrificing my money for those who are needier than me. I can sacrifice my time for those who need some love. I can sacrifice emotional comfort to sit and mourn with those who mourn, and offer them the comfort with which God has comforted me over the years. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) If I want to endure great persecution with joy, I must first learn to joyfully endure the small persecutions when people don’t appreciate my beliefs. (Considering I tend to avoid all conflict and just keep my mouth shut about what I believe, I don’t think I’ve mastered that one.)

Let’s be ready. I beg you, let’s prepare, so that we will not falter in the time of trial. This is my prayer, that God would prepare the American church for persecution. But it has to start with each one of us: each one of us daily giving up the little comforts for the sake of another, standing out from the crowd because of what we believe, humbling ourselves to love those who insult us. It has to start here and now, with the small things. With the small sacrifices, with the small persecutions. Otherwise, how will we be prepared to face the big ones?

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Conform or Transform

I had so much fun picking Ephesians 4:26-27 apart a few weeks ago that I ended up doing it again. (With a different set of verses, of course…) Once again, I’m going to have to number the different paragraphs. (Sorry about that. I hate numbers too, but it *does* make things so much easier.) Let’s get started, shall we? [warning]This is going to be a little longer than said post I linked to up there.[/warning]

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. ~ Romans 12:1-2

1. By the mercies of God. Some versions say “In view of God’s mercies” instead. But the gist of it, looking at what comes before it, is more like “Because of God’s mercies [which we just described to you]”. Hence, What God has done for us is the direct reason for Paul’s appeal about being living sacrifices. After all that God has done for us, the very least we can do is be completely His.

2. Present your bodies. Literally, all of the physical you. But more than that. Paul of course, with his Jewish heritage, was referring to the ancient sacrifices that are a part of Judaism. With those sacrifices, they became holy because they were sacrificed. And there were certain things you could or could not do with them because they were holy. In the same way, our bodies are holy because we are presenting them as sacrifices. That means that there are things we ought and ought not to do with them. And that translates into presenting all of our actions, thoughts, etc. as sacrifices right along with our physical bodies. Because what you do with a holy thing needs to be holy as well. But more on that in a second.

3. As a living sacrifice. Emphasis on the sacrifice part. No point in whining about giving things up for God. Duh. It’s a sacrifice. And since it’s a living sacrifice, that means the sacrifice keeps happening as long as you’re alive. I think sometimes we (especially those in wealthy nations) tend to forget that sacrifice (along with suffering and persecution and pain…but that’s better kept for a different post) is an inherent part of following Christ. We tend to feel sorry for ourselves when He asks us to give something up. No, sacrifice is and will be a part of our faith as long as we are on this earth.

4. Holy and acceptable to God (which is your spiritual worship). Being “holy and acceptable to God” is how you worship Him. You don’t need a nice band playing nice songs that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside to worship God. (Sorry, that’s also a subject better kept for a different time.) But really. One way the Jews worshiped God was by offering holy and acceptable sacrifices. Thus, seeking holiness is a way to directly worship God by honoring Him with your living sacrifice.

5. Do not be conformed to this world. This is actually almost a reiteration of the sacrifice part. One of Noah Webster’s definitions (Or rather a piece of one of his definitions. They’re each rather wordy, so I try to condense them when I can.) of holy is “consecrated or set apart to a sacred use, or to the service or worship of God”. Set apart to a sacred use, like a sacrifice. Set apart. Meaning, you’re *going* to look different from the world, and further, you are commanded to be different. You cannot stay inside the moral, intellectual, spiritual box the rest of the world locks itself in. You’re supposed to look and think and consider whether commonly-accepted behaviors, beliefs, etc. honor God or not. If they do not, you are not to do them, regardless of the consequences that will earn you. Similarly, you must obey God’s commands whether or not they are acceptable in the eyes of the world, whether or not they cause people to think you’re being offensive, strange, or just ridiculous. As a holy sacrifice, your first priority is to honor God no matter what the world says. One of the practical ways this has translated into my life in recent months is movies. Movies, in general, are considered by most Christians to be fine. They’re just entertainment. But for me, I see a good deal of content that does not honor God in the least. Plus, they’re often a waste of time. *coughnotthatIshouldlectureonthatsinceIstillwastetimeotherwayscoughcough* (Note, please, that I said *often* not always. I’m not bashing every single movie. There are still some good ones that are worth watching.) The result? I don’t watch nearly as many as I used to. So for me, I’m having to learn to give up movies for the most part. (I say this after watching a rather weird and maybe stupid one last night that I wish I hadn’t. I did say I was still in the process.) All of that to say that part of not conforming to this world can be giving up things that “aren’t really bad” but just aren’t good. And you’re going to look weird for it. And you might offend someone. Because you don’t look like the world when you do that.

6. But be transformed. Emphasizing the “but”. (I know that’s a touchy word to emphasize, but I can’t overlook the grammatical importance here.) Do not be conformed but be transformed. Meaning, that transformation is the opposite of conforming. What are you transforming from? The old man. The old sin nature. The old nasty yick that can’t be good to save your life. (Literally). Meaning, if conforming is the opposite of transforming, that to conform to the world is to stay that old man (or woman) controlled by sin. The Bible condemns Christians who do that (hint: they’re generally called fleshly or carnal Christians). Whups. So Paul says to pick the opposite and instead be transformed into a new man in Christ, one who has power to reject the old clingy sin nature and live in the power of the Holy Spirit and move mountains and honor God.

7. By the renewal of your mind. The transformation occurs by (or because of [see paragraph #1]) the renewal of your mind. How do you accomplish this renewal? It happens by dumping out the old shattered junk you used to keep in your brain/heart/mind/whatever and filling it with new shiny stuff that actually works. Aka, replacing everything in your brain that belonged to the old sin nature with that which comes from the Holy Spirit. Like cleaning out your closet, this doesn’t happen overnight. After all, there’s a lot of junk to clean out of there! It’s going to take time. It’s a process. And you can’t do it by yourself. (Because that would just be your old nature trying to do things your old way, and that doesn’t work when you’re throwing out your old stuff.) “Renewing your mind” starts at the feet of your Creator. Daily at least. It means soaking up His nature and surrendering your old nature to Him, piece by piece. A great place to start is studying God’s word, and a great place to go next is pouring yourself out in prayer. Remember, you can’t learn to be like someone if you never spend time with them. The more often and long you are around someone, the more you will start to speak, act, and think like they do. (Take married couples for example. After fifty years or so, they get pretty good at that.) Transformation starts with renewing your mind, and renewing your mind starts and ends with exchanging your human thoughts with God’s.

8. That by testing you may discern. Continuing with the married couples analogy, generally if you spend enough time with someone that you speak, act, and think a lot like they do, you’re going to know what their will is. The more you spend time learning to speak, act, and think like God, the more you will recognize His will. When you spend copious amounts of time with God regularly, you will learn to test situations, decisions, etc. against what God says in His word to see if they align with His will. Thus, you will discern it.

9. What is the will of God (what is good and acceptable and perfect). God’s will is good and acceptable and perfect. Which means, that as you renew you mind in His presence, you will learn to recognize what is good and acceptable and perfect. Because that’s what you have been regularly filling your mind with instead of the old nasty junk.

(Whew! That was longer than I anticipated. High five if you made it through all of that! Thank you for reading! 🙂 )

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