Friday, October 2, 2015

The Moment That Changes Everything

There are moments in history that define each one of us, moments that completely change the course of our lives.  Whether they are marked by a decision or an event or an encounter, our lives look drastically different than they did the moment before.

Think about the day you got married or the day you held your child for the first time, about how much your life changed that day.  Life would never be the same from that point, would it?  Good or bad, there was no going back to life as it was before.

Think about life before 9/11.  What was life like on September 10th, 2001?  Very different than September 12th, for sure.

One event, and the course of an entire nation was re-routed.

One moment and everything changed.

One moment of weakness, one swallowed lie, one bite of forbidden fruit.  Sin found its way into humanity and the world was changed forever.

One choice by a man named Cain to bring not the best and first of his crops – just “some” – to make an offering to his Creator.  The choice to keep the best for himself and make an offering not out of faith in God to provide, but rather an offering out of the leftovers.  The choice to stand proudly before God, angry that his offering wasn’t found acceptable, rather than submit in humility and repentance.

This choice would change Cain’s life drastically.  The anger that began as a small seed that day grew in his heart like the wheat that he had sown in his field.  It matured into full-grown hatred, strong enough to lead him to murder his own brother.  Again, when given the opportunity by God to confess his wrongdoing, he stood proudly and defiantly before his Maker and confessed nothing

And so the consequence: the once highly successful farmer would no longer be able to coax even the scantest crop from the ground, and instead would spend the rest of his days a wanderer.  His family, too, would be sentenced to wander with him.  No home, no livelihood.  Just wandering.

But the effects of Cain’s choices didn’t end with him or his immediate family.  Several generations later, one of Cain’s offspring would become himself a murderer and proudly claim a promise God had made to Cain as his own.  It started with one choice, but the ripples of that choice continued to spread.

How different would Cain’s life have been had he chosen that day to bring the first and best of his crops as an offering?  Or if, when God disapproved of the offering, he had reacted with humility or remorse? How would his story have gone then?

Maybe there is a moment in your own life that very distinctly divides it into “before” and “after.”  Maybe it was put there by your own choice, or perhaps it was handed to you by someone else. Regardless, it changed your story.  There’s no going back, no matter how much you wish you could.

One moment and everything changed.

But there is another moment in history that can change your story again.  Oh, it won’t undo what has already been done; it won’t erase history.  But it will rob your history of its power to dictate your future. Indeed, it will redeem your history and make your story one of beauty and grace.

I’m talking, of course, about Jesus.  About the moment that he stepped back out of the grave and crushed the power of sin and death.  Forever.  I’m talking about that moment when you encountered Him – or will encounter Him – and He began to re-write your story.

One moment with Jesus and your life will never be the same.

Will it be 9/11 kind of change? Probably not in the world’s eyes. But to you…yeah, it’s that big. The difference, my friend, is that instead of looking back with nostalgia or regret or sadness, you’ll be looking to the future with anticipation, hope and joy.

Jesus.  He changes everything.

And what a wonderful thing it is when He does.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:17

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Press On

Hello, friend.  How's your walk going this summer?  Is there a spring in your step and a song on your lips?  Are you walking side-by-side with the Spirit, enjoying His company as you walk, taking your cues from Him?  That is such a sweet and joyous place to be, even if the road you're traveling is a little rocky.

Or are you weary and worn out from your journey, beaten up by the storms you have weathered recently?  Have the demands of the journey sapped your strength and squelched your desire to keep going?  Have you lost sight of the Spirit, leaving you feeling lost and ready to give up?

Oh, my friend, if this is where you are, let me encourage you with a piece of Scripture that the Lord has pressed upon my heart these last few months.  For I have walked where you are now walking.  I have felt in my bones and in the deepest part of my being the weariness that you now feel.  I have known what it is like to be discouraged to the point of giving up, to feel as though I have given every ounce of what I had to give. 

I, like you, have been worn out, lost and hopeless.

Praise God that He has promised never to leave us, never to abandon us!  And praise Him all the more that He is a God who keeps His promises!

EVERY. TIME.

Here is the promise He led me to, the promise I have clung to and that has become my anchor these past few months:

Hosea 6:3 ~
Acknowledge the Lord.
Press on to acknowledge Him. (italics mine)
As surely as the sun rises in the east, He will appear.
He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.

"Acknowledge the Lord.  Press on to acknowledge Him."  In the midst of our trials, our weariness, we must continue to acknowledge the Lord.  To confess with our lips that he is GOD, the King of Kings, the Ruler of all.  To live in obedience to His leading.  Even when our hearts don't want to join in, we must continue to acknowledge Him.

But it won't be easy.

Why else would there be a need to "press on to acknowledge Him?"  To press on: to keep going even when we think we can't.  To muscle our way through the exhaustion.  To keep putting one foot in front of the other, even when our legs are aching and weak.

I used to be a jogger.  I loved to go out for a two or three mile (sometimes more!) jog.  Some days were hard, though, and I would hit a point where I didn't think I could go another ten feet, let alone another mile.  It was like I hit an invisible wall that was trying to press me backwards.  But I learned to keep pushing - to press on - and break through that wall.  I almost always ended up going farther than I thought was possible.

"Pressing on" is not easy.  To press on in our faith we must be intentional.  We have to choose to continue to acknowledge God.  We have to do it on purpose.  It will require energy that we think we don't have.  It will require that we refocus our thoughts so they dwell on who God is rather than our circumstances.  To "press on" is hard work.

But here is the promise that follows this difficult instruction:  "As surely as the sun rises in the east, He will appear.  He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth."

Press on and you will see God.  Press on and He will appear.  He will not stay hidden - you can count on it, just as surely as you can count on the sun coming up in the east! 

God WILL appear!

And when He does, He will bring refreshment to your life just as the rain brings refreshment to the earth. 

No, more than that - He will bring renewal.  He will bring LIFE.  Just as the rain brings life to the seemingly dead plants in springtime, so will God bring LIFE to your weary soul.

He will come, and He will bring new life.  That's a promise you can cling to, a promise that you can anchor your faith to.  It is a promise God will keep.

Last spring I was led to this verse as I prepared to teach at a women's tea at a local church.  I loved the verse and what it promised, but little did I know that God would prove Himself true to this promise in the months to come.  I had no idea how desperately I would need this promise.  I still marvel at how God works to provide for His children, how He planted that verse in my head well in advance of the time I would need it as an anchor in my heart.

My family has experienced some circumstances this summer that truly tested our faith.  They pushed us to the point of mental, emotional and spiritual weariness where we felt as though our feet were made of lead and we were unable to drag them forward for even one more step.  But in those days and weeks, God reminded me of Hosea 6:3, (in fact, it rarely left my mind!)  and my husband and I - on behalf of our family - continued to press on in our faith.

Still, we are continuing to press on.  But let me tell you, we have begun to see the Son rising in our home! The Spirit has begun to reign in our family and we see evidence of new life in every corner!

God is faithful, my friend.  Be encouraged today as you press on to acknowledge Him, that He is a God who is true to His Word.  Keep pressing on and know that "as surely as the sun rises in the east, He WILL appear."

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Playdough Principle: Five (Short) Lessons On How To Be Playdough

Yesterday I introduced you to "The Playdough Principle," the idea that when we face adversity, we should be moldable (like playdough) and allow God to use those difficult circumstances to shape us into His own image.

But how do we allow ourselves to be clay in the hands of our Father?  How do we make ourselves soft and pliable in His hands?   

To understand that, I want to turn to a story in the Old Testament about a trio of men named Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  We find their story in Daniel 3.  Now, these men were Jews living in exile in Babylon.  God has blessed them and their fellow Israelite, Daniel, so that they have been appointed to high positions under King Nebuchadnezzar.  The King is so highly impressed with himself that he has erected a ninety foot tall statue of himself, and he has ordered that everyone in the kingdom must bow down and worship it.  But these God-fearing men refused to bow down to anyone other than God, even under threat of execution.  When questioned by the king, this was their reply (found in verses 16-18): “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us.  He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty.  But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

So, lesson number one from these men: We must be steadfast in our dedication to the Lord.  Hebrews 12:2 says “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith…”  When hard times come your way, you may be tempted to do a couple of things:  You may want to blame God, or you may start thinking that perhaps He is not as all-powerful as you once believed.  Those two are very deep issues that take a lot of digging to deal with.  But trust me in this, we are shown over and over in Scripture that God has power above all and over all, and He is a compassionate God whose desire is not to harm you, but to help you grow into the likeness of His Son.   James 1:13-15 reminds us that God does NOT tempt us, so don’t allow yourself to be swayed into that sort of thinking, either.  Instead, keep your eyes, your heart and your mind focused on Jesus.  Immerse yourself in God’s Word and plant it in your heart so that when the enemy tries to pull you away from Christ, you will remain steadfast in your faith.  Do not let the enemy bully you or frighten you into turning away from God.

Lesson number two: We must be intentional in our obedience to God.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were not nonchalant in any way as they refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s idol, nor did they hope to just “fly under the radar.”  They were prominent men in Babylon, so they lived their lives in the public eye and were intentional in their obedience to God’s command not to worship any god but Himself.  We, too, must be purposeful in searching out and obeying God’s directions for us.  When you’re in the middle of adversity, ask yourself, “What does God want me to learn from this?  How does He want me to react?”  And then do your very best to be obedient to what He reveals to you.  Sometimes – many times – that means choosing to act in direct opposition to our instinct or to what our flesh cries out for.  Perhaps you have been hurt deeply by a friend or a loved one, maybe even your spouse.  Everything in you tells you to lash out at them and hurt them in retaliation, but the Spirit is guiding you to forgive.  Maybe you’re struggling in your relationship with the Lord, doubting His presence in your life and you really just want to walk away.  Instead, you continue to pick up your Bible and read His Word simply out of obedience.  Maybe there’s a temptation in your life that you really, really want to cave in to, and you have to make a choice – to yield to the Spirit or give in to the flesh.  We must be intentional in our obedience to God.

Lesson number three: TRUST.  Boy, this can be a hard one.  We have been taught not to trust anyone other than ourselves, because eventually, in one way or another, everyone else will let us down.  But we serve a God who will NEVER let us down.  Deuteronomy 31:8 says, “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you.  He will be with you; He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

Romans 8:31-39 says, “…If God is for us, who can ever be against us?  Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?  Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself.  Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.  Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?  (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”)  No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.  And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We can TRUST God, the same way that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego trusted God.  They boldly stated their faith in Him when they told Nebuchadnezzar that even if he should throw them in the fiery furnace, God would rescue them.  And they were steadfast enough in that faith that they knew He was still the One, True God even if He chose NOT to rescue them.  (Dan 3:17-18) 

Lesson number four: Recognize that God is with us in the midst of our trials.  When our three friends in Babylon refused to bow down to the king’s statue, Ole Nebby flew into a rage.  He ordered the heat of the furnace to be intensified seven times hotter than normal.  It was so hot that the soldiers who threw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the furnace were killed themselves, just standing next to the entrance.  But when King Nebby looked into the furnace, he was quite surprised to see the three men standing unharmed and accompanied by a fourth!  It is believed by many scholars that this fourth man was Jesus, Himself!  God is with us, even amidst our troubles! I want you to notice that God didn’t come to rescue Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego BEFORE they were thrown into the fire.  He didn’t come to keep them out of the fire, but to go through the fire with them.  God doesn’t promise to keep us out of the fire, but He has given us His Spirit, who lives in us and is our constant companion, to walk with us through the fire.  In John 14:16-17, Jesus tells His followers this: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate who will never leave you.  He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.”  

Take a minute and picture God's hand wrapped tightly around you.  Not just holding your hand, but all of you.  You are safe there.  No matter what happens, God will never let go of you, neither on purpose nor by accident.  You can never "slip" from His grasp, and He will never intentionally let you fall.  Nor can any circumstance pull you from His grip.  You are completely safe.

Now, picture yourself holding on to a rope that is fraying and about to break, torn to shreds by the trials in your life.  In fact, it is holding on only by a thread, and you are desperately trying to cling to the rope, hoping against hope that it will hold up under your weight.  Now, look down and see that you are resting securely in the palm of God's hand.  Sometimes we are so desperately afraid of falling and we are trying so hard to hold ourselves up that we don't realize we just need to let go and trust God to hold on to us.  Sure, the trials will come and they will be bitter.  But God's hand will always be there.  And He's a BIG God; He cannot be tumbled by the trials of this world.  Of that you can be sure.

I want you to see one other thing.  Notice that the hand that holds you bears the scar of a deep wound.  The hand that holds you belongs to a God who loves you so completely that He would stop at nothing, even death on a cross, to rescue you.  The hand that holds you is that of a God who has suffered just as we have -- physically, emotionally, relationally -- and understands what it means to stare death in the face.  The hand that holds you is steady and strong, yet compassionate and caring.  In it you can place your whole trust and find the solace that your soul longs for.  Friend, when you belong to Jesus, you are safe.  Always.  Even when the world around you is a fiery furnace of trials.

Lesson number five: Rest assured that God will use our trials for His glory.  When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stepped out of the furnace unharmed, the king was absolutely amazed to see that not even a hair on their head was singed.  As a result, he began to praise God throughout his kingdom, and he even promoted the three men to higher positions of authority.  When you allow God to bring you through a fiery situation and you hold steadfastly to your faith in Him, other people WILL notice.  Not only will you be changed, but your witness may bring salvation into the life of others.  How awesome is that! 

So…we want to be Playdough, not elastic.  We want our trials to stretch us, but not just leave us unchanged.  We want to be stretched and molded into the image of God’s Son.  In order to be Playdough, we need to work to attain these characteristics: We must be steadfast in our faith; we must be intentional in our obedience to God’s instructions for us; we must allow ourselves to trust God, knowing that He will never fail us; we must recognize that God is with us even in the middle of our hard times; and we can rest on the fact that God will use our trials for His glory.  Be Playdough, my friends, and let God use the adversity in your life to make you into the perfect image of His Son.