Monday, April 30, 2007

God of Hope

Romans 15:13: May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

My human nature is prone to migrate to the negative. When I look at a commercial on television with great promise to cure whatever problem I may have, I am skeptical. One of the reasons I believe that I am well suited to develop solid processes for my employer is that my mind naturally explores the avenues of potential failure so that we can prevent them before they occur.

Even in my relationships with people, I take a long time to build a trust and am quick to criticize in my mind and abandon my trust. My nature is precisely the opposite of what God creates in us. Apart from a relationship with the Father made possible by Jesus Christ, I don't see how people can have joy. The alternatives are all so prone to failure, so fleeting. Without a vision for God's sovreignty and grace there is no hope.

No matter what happens here on earth and no matter how products or people may fail, we have a sure hope that is found only through a faith and trust in Jesus and by a life that is led by the Holy Spirit. I have great hope and joy because I have been adopted by no merit of my own but by God's great love for me in spite of my failings. I have peace like nothing on earth can supply; it is the knowledge that I am safe and secure in the promises of God. I need nothing more and he gives no less.

What a blessed hope we have to know that we have this treasure in fractured vessels, preserved for a future union with our bridegroom. We know him now, but what a day that will be when we will know him fully! I can train my mind on these things and rest in his unfailing love.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Persevering through lean times

When I first began doing Bible studies in the area of stewardship, I was really struck by a particular principle: God is sovereign and is fully capable of taking care of his part, if I will be obedient. It was simple and I had been taught it before, but when I began to apply it to my stewardship, I also began to see how much it applied in all areas of my life. That principle works well with Romans 8:28-29 where we learn that God is working all things together for the good of the believer in order to grow them into Christ-likeness.

I began to see how God may be moving not only in the midst of my pleasant circumstances but also my unpleasant circumstances as well. Wouldn’t the discomfort I endure through the hard times be worth the price if I were to become more like my Lord and a more fitting bride? Couldn’t God then use my service and my talents more effectively? Wouldn’t he receive the greater glory when he receives the victory over our trials?

I know that in my life, God uses the trials to grow me, to bring me to my knees in prayer when without the trials I might not concentrate quite so much on my desperate need of him. If my life is hidden in Christ then every circumstance that comes my way has to go through him and can be used as a tool to develop my character and to give me a greater impact for my witness to others.

When we realize how powerless we are to affect the victory in our circumstances, we can then appropriate and be awestruck by the mighty power of God. Our circumstances can be radically changed in an instant, or God may choose to grow us in time like he did with Joseph during his years of slavery and in prison.

Most of the best things in my life have not come without a bit of sacrifice. The sacrifice made the thing that much more precious. It was not without cost, it came at great cost. If you are waiting through financial hardships and waiting for God to come to your deliverance, take courage! He is still on the throne, he is still sovereign and as a Christian your life is hidden with him and cannot be taken from his hand. Pray on mighty warriors and keep doing right that God will get the glory and we will receive deliverance.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Iron sharpens Iron

Proverbs 27:17: As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

This Proverb is intended to show us our need to converse with one another and to encourage one another on to love and good deeds. We as Christians should be involved with one another's lives and praying for one another and knowing how to spur one another to action.

I have found this week that the conflict in my life has had a similar effect. At every point of conflict, I have been confronted with my own selfish tendencies. Conflict against my natural self. While I would like to say that I responded in every and all occasions in the Spirit, in fact I have not. My flesh is far too vocal and defends itself far too readily.

It frustrates me so, because my heart's desire is to be a bold witness for my Lord. I never want to rely on my natural tendencies, but it seems I am so prone to defensiveness and retaliation when confronted. I understand what Paul meant in Romans 7:21-25

So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

What a wretched person I am to be so quick to act in my flesh. I would have no hope apart from God's mercy on me. I now have hope because I am redeemed not by my own doing but by the price Jesus paid for me. I am no longer a slave to sin because I can choose not to sin. I am a daughter of God and have been fully paid for.

Thank God that I do have conflict because it causes me to see how weak my flesh is and how much I need to depend completely on my Savior to make it through each day. Thank God that in the conflict he grows me and he trains me to be more like him and to see his character more fully. What a wonderful God we serve!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

In the Battle

Earlier this week, I was inspired by one of my daily Bible passages. I had been praying that the Lord might remove me from some of my conflict or somehow make the conflict easier for me as I was feeling discouraged and wanting better for myself and thinking that I shouldn't have to suffer hardship, unfair treatment and insults. I was directed to Ephesians chapter 6 where there is a discussion about our role as Christians in the face of conflict:

Verses 10 -20 -Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

I was struck to my core. Could it be possible that God intends for me to be in the midst of conflict, not with people but against the sin that pervades our choices. Is it perhaps God's plan for me to stand firm in the midst of conflict and opposition rather than being removed from it or have my battleground moved to a more pleasant location? It gave me courage to go out into my days this week knowing that I belong to the Lord and my strength and power come from him as well as my provision. I have all that I need to stand firm in my circumstances if only I will get dressed. I certainly cannot stand without my armour.

I like Paul's last request as well. To pray that his may be bold in his proclaimation of the gospel. Isn't that the point? We are not in this battle for our own purposes, but God will edify us to stand as the battle gets more challenging; and it does get more challenging. Without conflict we might grow complacent. In conflict we know we have to drop to our knees in humble acknowledgement of our need of supernatural power to make it through.

I don't know how my battles are going to end, all I know is that I am on the right side and the side that will be victorious in the end. I want the same as Paul requested. Prayer for strength and wisdom in my words and actions that I might be bold in my stand for Christ and that when people see me they will know that my faith is not something casual or optional, but it is my life. Jesus is my Lord and I must serve him.

If you have gotten this far in my blog, let me also confess that while I know all this in my head, it's application in my conversation and my choices is very difficult. I was feeling very downtrodden this morning and without courage. I know I cannot stand alone, but I also know I don't have to as my God has provided me a way to stand against self pity, temptation, bitterness and has given me weapons to stand firm against the attacks of the enemy that come through the people I am given in this mission here. O Lord God, may your name be glorified today as we serve you!

Friday, April 13, 2007

RV (Rat Vehicle)

This story is just too wild to believe, but I am sure that you might find in this that God has a sense of humor.

In the beginning, November to be precise, we began to hear the pitter patter (more like scratching and scraping) of little rat feet in the walls of our home. While I was bemoaning my situation, I heard the doorbell ring... it was the Terminix man making his quarterly rounds. "Got any bugs I can kill for you today, Mam?" he asked. "No, but I got some rats coming in from under my house and climbing in my walls can you take care of them?" I responded. The Terminix man was more than happy to put out some bait to snag the varmints.

I, however, began an ethical debate about whether I really wanted to kill the rats or if I just wanted to see them move out. Moving out seemed reasonable, but the rats didn't speak English so I couldn't figure out how to give them their eviction notice before they ate the poison that lied their in waiting. Before three weeks was over, there were no more sounds of the traveling rodents any more so I gave up my moral dilemma and conceded that perhaps some had moved out, but I also saw some of the carcasses in my lawn so I knew that some were not so fortunate. Oh, well, it is over.

December came and before Christmas, some new families had moved in. Maybe they were the ones who moved out before and came back with friends after vacationing. We began to hear the familiar crawling in our walls. Up the wall and over the ceiling doing who knows what, but seemingly dancing all the way. Once again, I call the Terminix man; surely he can help. Again they come and they bait. Noise subsides and peace rules the house once again.

Then, one day my husband Kenny goes to the travel trailer parked in our driveway to get a tool he had left and to make sure that there was sufficient heat to keep things from freezing during the winter when lo and behold, some of the rats that moved out had moved IN to the trailer. They had started to make a home in the holding tanks and redirected some of the heating ducts to keep them toasty while they munched on a box of Scooby Snacks they found in the cupboard. One of them thought that some Gulden's mustard would be a good compliment to the Scooby Snacks so they ate through that. When thirsty; no problem, the water lines are a great source for a drink.

For fun, they thought they would also eat the wiring to many of the little gadgets and meters Kenny had installed and the air conditioning unit as well. While there is a rest room in the travel trailer, they preferred to use the space under the couch and in the heating. The last straw was when they chewed the stuffing out of Tigger (the stuffed mascot we had for our trailer, because Tigger loves to bounce).

We went to trapping the destructive little beasts. At this point, I am feeling much less humane. I want the rats gone and I do not care how. I call Terminex and have them come again to deal with the little trolls. Kenny in the meantime sets some traps and some poison and catches one 18" nose to tail (the size of a miniature cat). Later he traps two more from the trailer. Terminex picks up a few more carcasses from the yard.

Kenny files an insurance claim. They ask questions like, "Do your neighbors have rat issues?" Well I don't talk with all my neighbors, but I did speak with a few and they did not seem to have issues. The insurance company commented that normally when there is an infestation like this, it has been where there is construction nearby. Well there is no construction going on in my neighborhood that I am aware of; it is an older and more settled neighborhood. The insurance company totals the RV and hauls it away.

Neighbors don't have issues, but we do. No construction and yet we seem to be the target. Kenny and I revisit some of our Crown training about how God is sovereign in all things and he gives us our wealth and He takes it away if it suits his purposes. I ask Kenny, "Do you think that God may have sent the rats in order to take away our trailer from us?" He replies, "Perhaps God sent the rats to give me a new RV."

I am more and more convinced that God may very well have sent the rats specifically to us. I still don't know his plan fully, but I know Kenny's plan. A new RV is on order and awaiting delivery as I write this. I pray that even in this God will have his perfect way and receive all the glory and that we will know more of his character in the end.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Resurrection Day

This is the most wonderful day of the year! Each year we get to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ remembering that great hope that we have in him. He has conquered death and paid the penalty for sin that we might become adopted as children of God completely reconciled with him.

Though I am chiefly a sinner by nature, I am redeemed! I can sing and dance for joy because I have been the beneficiary of this wonderful grace!

I can't wait to go to worship and sing his praises! In honor of this wonderful day, I am preparing a feast! Good morning cinnamon rolls currently are waiting for consumption. Later we will have a proper feast of ham and scallopped potatoes and the works for dinner!

This is a day of celebration like no other in the year! Christmas cannot even compare with Easter! We have power over sin and death because Jesus has paved the way. And we also know that he is coming back for his people and I believe it will be soon. Maybe even today! For sure it is sooner than it was yesterday.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Good Friday

Today, as in several years past, I have taken a break from my routine to reflect on what Jesus did for me on the cross. It is a time when I reflect back on my own sin and recognize again my need for a Savior because there is nothing good in me that can save myself.

I started this tradition back in 1998 when on Good Friday morning I was reading Daniel Chapter 9. Daniel said that he was reflecting on the predictions of Jeremiah the prophet concerning the length of time that the nation of Israel would remain in exile because of their sin. He prayed a prayer recognizing his sin as well as the nation of Israel:

"O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke inyour name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.

Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame - the men of Judah and people of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. O Lord, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you. The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away refusing to obey you.

Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing upon us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. The Lord did not hesitate to bring the disaster upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.

Now, O Lord our God who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. O Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our fathers have make Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.

Now, our God hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolations of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name."

When I read that passage, I was struck to my core as to how it could still be said of me and my generation today. We have all sinned against God and much of the hardship we face might well be God's intervention in our lives to cause us to turn back to him. I was so humbled and repentant that I could not even conceive of going about my daily routine as if my sin was nothing and trivialize the act of Christ on the cross in paying the penalty for my sins.

I do know there is more to the story and will rejoice on Easter when we celebrate his resurrection, but I also think that it might do us all good to reflect on our own sins and our need of a Savior. We have no hope apart from the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and if there had been another way for me to reconcile myself to God and gain entrance into eternal life with him in heaven, Christ's death would have been for nothing.

I need a Savior. My sins are great before God. I wish I could say that I have acknowledged them all and sought and received God's forgiveness, but I can't even say that I truly understand the depth of my sin and I know that I have trivialized so much of it. How many times do I pray my petitions before God and do not even stop to confess my sin before him. I can say that as I have been more and more convicted of my sin, I can see more of the depths of love Christ expressed for me on the cross. I was doomed and Christ came and paid my penalty. Easter is coming, but for today, I believe I will just go before God and remember my sins and the great love that held Christ to the cross so that I could go before the throne of God personally and know that he has heard my petitions. This day we recognize the depth of our shame.

May God richly bless you as you seek him and as you serve him.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Sacrifice and Submission

In my Romans study, we have moved on to the Christians obligation to submit to all authorities as they are positioned by God for the purpose of leadership. I like rules and with order and boundaries there is freedom. I can go about my business without fear of danger, because my authorities are responsible to create an environment of safety. As Christians we are to be model citizens because if we do not obey our civil authorities, we are disobeying God as he is the authority over our authorities and he placed them in their positions.

Tied in with this lesson, our associate pastor preached last Sunday on the persecuted church and how there are Christians even today that are suffering for their faith. He gave the example of the Chinese church that has had regular persecution from the government and yet they still have a strong number of believers who continue to worship knowing at any time they could be arrested and tortured for their faith.

I was particularly struck by one of the verses used in the sermon (based on Hebrews 10) in verse 34, it says "You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions." The two prior verses give it some context: "Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated."

Can I say for my own faith that I would be willing to so submit myself to God's care, that I would be willing to endure mistreatment and persecution? Would I do it even if it meant subjecting myself to unfair treatment? Would I be willing to have things that have rightfully been mine stolen from me? Would I be willing to let them have them? JOYFULLY? Is my hope of my eternal reward so sure that I would be willing to sacrifice my rewards here?

Now, my BSF leader said that the Romans 13 passage was timely for tax season. I find it very timely for Easter. My Lord Jesus left his place in Heaven and came to earth and endured tremendous persecution and torture without demanding His "rights". In John 19:11, Jesus acknowledged that Pilot had authority to put him to death, but He said something amazing: "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above." Jesus placed himself squarely under the authority of Pilot who chose to subject an innocent man to death because he feared the retribution of Caesar if he did not.

Jesus endured this treatment for the greater hope that we sinners would receive reconciliation with God and would become his bride. He came and endured that for me before I was born, before I sinned and even knowing that I would sin greatly against him for the purpose of redeeming me as his bride. I am awestruck and humbled by the prospect that he would love me that much.

Nothing I could ever face here could compare with the glorious riches that await me. I have been adopted into God's family and I can go out today in the midst of trial, mistreatment and misunderstanding and have a song in my heart because I belong to Jesus and he is my rock, my shield, my protector, my guide, my Lord. I can only pray that the Lord will give me the strength to endure if I am ever faced with real persecution.

What I have to endure here is small in comparison to others. If you don't believe that this is happening, I would challenge you to visit the website Voice of the Martyrs is an organization dedicated to sharing the needs of the persecuted Christians. We have it so good and our authorities may fail us, but they have not abused us the way these people have to face.