Monday, March 24, 2014

Defending a Lion

Today I'm at Out of the Ordinary:

I've been pondering this idea quite a bit lately, that believers (myself included) are often more prone to speak based on their assumptions about God rather than relying on God's Word itself.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Birthday Cards and Sweet Notes

Most of my childhood vacations were spent at a campground. Each year I'd make a new friend and we'd vow to be pen pals. In college I wrote letters to my parents, my sister, and even our dog. I found a stack of those letters after Mama passed away, along with years of cards and other notes I'd given her. When my husband and I were dating and in the early years of our marriage, I'd write him long letters and poems declaring my undying love. In years past, I would sit with the church directory in my lap and write notes to the people whose names jumped out at me.

The art of handwritten cards and letters has gone by the wayside. It's easier to send an email, easier still to whip out a quick text or message on a Facebook wall. Any form of communication from a friend can be an encouragement; however, it's a special delight to open the mailbox and find a  treasure amongst junk mail, bank statements, and bills.

I've recently been reminded of the pleasure that handwritten words can bring. In one week, I was blessed with three lovely notes from ladies in my church family. The first was a sweet surprise. The second, even more so. When the third arrived, I was reduced to tears as I pondered the grace and goodness of God; He used those notes to encourage me and to demonstrate true community.

My birthday soon followed. With renewed appreciation for the efforts of the givers, I revived an old family tradition of displaying them on the mantle. It's obviously been a while since I've done this, because my girl asked why I did. I told her that seeing them each day makes me smile. (She's declared that she is going to do the same when her birthday rolls around.) I remember Mama telling me that her mother always said she wanted nothing more than a pretty card for any occasion. Mama felt the same.  The older I become, the more I understand. Every time I read through the cards that family and friends picked out for me this year, I am struck by the power of words.  A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. (Proverbs 25:11) While not spoken, the sentiments a card or note brings can be a gem of great value to the recipient. There's also the added bonus that a handwritten correspondence can be kept, savored for years to come. Just a few days ago I found this card a dear friend wrote me months ago, tucked inside a book. The prayers and exhortation it offered warmed my soul.

These last few weeks have prompted me to be more intentional in encouraging others. I'll still send texts, emails, and Facebook posts to let others know I'm thinking about them, but I won't rely on electronic communication alone. For my birthday a friend gave me a box of the cutest notecards I think I've ever seen. 100 of them. I plan to use them well and to use them often.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

March Malaise

When I was a child, March was one of my favorite months. After all, there was my birthday and, more often than not, spring break. Cake and days out of school were always cause for celebration! As I've gotten older, March has lost its sparkle. After saying goodbye to Mama on my birthday two years ago, I know the month will never be the same.

As difficult as the past two Marches have been, I expected this year to be different. I thought my melancholy would subside, but it's been firmly clutching my soul. It's not just that I miss Mama so much. It's not the other major events that have marked our lives these past 4 years: my husband's job loss and return to school, and leaving our church of 18 years to find another. I used to think that I was in some sort of extended grieving period, so accustomed to mourning that I knew no other way to live. But I'm beginning to understand that, while all of these events have caused major upheaval in my life, they are not the source of my malaise.

I'm not gloomy, depressed, or sad. In fact, malaise is the perfect word to describe this lingering feeling. The Oxford English Reference Dictionary defines malaise as "a nonspecific bodily discomfort not associated with the development of a disease; a feeling of uneasiness."  I am uneasy, out of sorts. To the human eye it may appear to be the result of much turmoil these past years, yet I know this is not the case.

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:14) This is not my home. I should feel uneasy here. As a believer in Christ, with the Holy Spirit residing in me, I can't help but feel any other way. It's when I seek comfort and satisfaction in the world - when I find my identity here - that I lose that feeling of uneasiness and start to feel that I fit in. Yet I, like every believer, am called to stand out.

The truth is, the closer I walk with God, the more disconnected I will feel from this world.  That doesn't mean there aren't good things here. I have a wonderful family and friends, a good job, a lovely home, and much more. I have been blessed beyond measure. Yet even the best of these cannot compare to the glories I will behold in Heaven.

As my birthday approaches, I will thank the Lord for another year and praise Him for the gifts He's given me. I will gather with friends and eat cake. I will enjoy every minute of it. But a small part of me will be longing for Home.

That's as it should be.

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Childhood Tale Revisited

As a child, I often heard the story "The Emperor's New Clothes". Today I'm at Out of the Ordinary, discussing how this tale has infiltrated the church.  I hope you'll join the conversation.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Lessons from Midian

My pastor is currently preaching through the Book of Exodus. I really enjoy digging deeply into a book of the Bible, so I'm studing Exodus on my own during the week - with the help of Philip Graham Ryken's Exodus: Saved for God's Glory. Ryken's commentary is a wonderful supplement to my pastor's rich teaching. I have been caught up in this Gospel of the Old Testament, struck by the parallels between the lives of Moses and Jesus.

While I've been studying Exodus 2:11 - 3:5, the Holy Spirit has shown me that what God did during this period of Moses' life can be extrapolated to my own.

The Bible is God's direct revelation of Himself; it is not about me. Looking at a the Word through the lens of my life is a gross error. One I'm guilty of committing too many times. I should look at my life through the lens of God's Word. When I do that - come to God's Word with no objective in mind other than to know Him more - I'm often amazed at what I learn.

Moses took matters into his own hands. Moses watched the Israelites toil in their slavery. He witnessed an Egyptian beat one of them, and took it upon himself to murder the taskmaster.  My pre-conversion days aside, there have been many - too many - times that I have appointed myself as judge, jury, and savior. I've tried to solve a situation in my own strength, never considering that I should consult others, let alone God.

Although most of the time I think things through (perhaps too much), when I feel strongly about something I am prone to dive in headfirst without much thought of the consequences. This has been especially true in ministry. I'd get an idea and immediately begin devising plans to bring it to fruition. In my sinful quest to bring glory to myself - under the guise of bringing glory to Him - I tried to skip over the preparation and get right to the finish line. I approached God's Word as something to be felt, an ever-changing work to be viewed in light of my emotions. I have short-changed those in my care because of my casual approach to God's Holy Word. Perhaps that's why God hasn't allowed me to have the speaking, teaching, or writing ministry that my heart was set upon for such a long time (and, in the interest of total transparency, still is to some extent).

God prepared Moses for his calling.  Moses soon learned that the Hebrews didn't respect his effort to rescue them; in fact, they scoffed at him. What's more, Pharaoh wanted to kill him. Moses fled to Midian in fear for his life. He wanted to deliver the Hebrews, but he wasn't ready. God brought Moses to a place where He could use the next 40 years to prepare him to lead the people out of Egypt.

Ryken points out that God used Moses' location, family, and job to strengthen him to lead God's chosen people. In the same way, God uses the circumstances of our lives to prepare us for our calling. As my pastor encouraged us, there are no insignificant moments in our lives. God can, and will, use even the mundane to teach us and use us for His glory. Moses was tending his sheep when God revealed Himself; he wasn't expecting a burning bush experience. I think one of the biggest problems believers of today must overcome is our expectation that God will show up in some monumental way to tell us what we're supposed to do. I wonder how much we miss because we don't suppose the ordinary days have any significance. Maybe I'm the only one.

I can't help but think how different my life might be if I realized that God is using my present circumstances to prepare me for things to come. Would I be as easily frustrated? So impatient? So quick to anger? Would I trust that even ordinary days are extraordinary if lived with God's glory as the objective?

I have no idea that God is training me for a "big" ministry. I do know that He has put me where I am now - in this community, this job, this family, this church - to teach me and prepare me. Like Moses, I want to be faithful in the tasks He gives me each day, so that I will be ready for whatever the future holds.