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Posted on Nov 6, 2012 in Devotional | 5 comments

What do we do with trouble?

What do we do with trouble?

I’ve always been taught the biblical principle of sowing and reaping.  In Christianity, it is taught over and over again that obedience and sacrifice in the short-term will produce blessing and abundance in the long-term.  Many Christians believe the long-term blessings will come in heaven, but I’ve been taught to believe that we can expect these blessings on earth as well.*

Financially, Christians are to give at least 10% of their income back to the church.  All money belongs to God, who has given it to us to use, and we are to be good stewards of it.  Part of being a good steward is giving back just 10% of it for the work of the church.  In elementary school, I was given an allowance of $2 a week and taught to turn $.20 over to church and to save $.20.  I was never very good at the savings part, but the tithe part stuck with me.  To the best of my knowledge, my parents have tithed on every dime they’ve ever made, plus given offerings over and above for things they felt were special needs.  I wish I could say I’ve been that faithful, but that is my goal.

Obedience is also said to produce blessings.  If God calls a person to do something too big and hard for them, He will give them the strength and means to do so.  If God calls a person to become a missionary in a foreign country, their desire to go will match the call and it will be a time of great joy in their lives – even if the joy is mingled with suffering.

While it hasn’t always been the case in my life, I’ve been working hard at total surrender and obedience over the last several years.  With a few exceptions that I remember with sorrow, I can say that I’ve done all I know to do to honor God and follow His lead.  I’ve left everything I know, the life I built for myself, in order to go where I believe He sent me.  I waited for the man I felt called to marry, rather than jumping in to a lifelong commitment without God’s peace.  I’ve been humbled more than I can say, watching dreams and plans float away with the belief that if they were from God, He will be the one to bring them back to me.  And He has rewarded me.

This time in my life has been wonderful – peace and stability and joyful answers to prayer.  I prayed for a husband, children, and a home of my own.  I prayed for the ability to focus on writing and let that be my primary goal.  God has granted me my requests in amazing ways, granting promises I waited years to see fulfilled and giving me such peace in the process.  But as it seems life is prone to do, the blessings have been mingled with suffering and difficulties and fear.  I guess the two go hand in hand.

My long-desired pregnancy, the gift of this child growing in my womb, has demanded more from me physically than I ever imagined.  There have been nights when I’m so overwhelmed with the challenge of this daily sickness and difficulty that I just cry, wondering if I’ll ever feel normal and healthy again, wondering if I’ll ever have the energy to make friends here.  During my pregnancy, we discovered that my mother and aunt had breast cancer and have been walking through their difficult medical interventions.  I’ve found it difficult to pray, to read the Bible, to even think much about God.  While I should be grateful and blessed, I’ve struggled with resentment and frustration.

Why?  Well, I guess I thought that after waiting so long for the right one to come along, after doing the right thing, I would be blessed with a blissful pregnancy.  And I certainly shouldn’t have to watch my sweet, godly, faithful mother suffer the ravages of a terrible disease and its treatment.  I’m an older mom because I didn’t feel God release me to marry until I found Rick.  I rested in the promise that He would “renew my strength like the eagles”** and touch me with a special grace for this time in my life.  But it seems genetics and age-related pregnancy complications are mine to deal with anyway.

Surely I’ll have a smooth delivery and perfect angel of a baby though, right?  I have to admit that my optimism for that is not good.  I find myself bracing for the worst.

As I consider my own difficulties, I think of families I know where major health problems cause them to deal with frighteningly large bills, fraudulent insurance companies, and the inability to work consistently (to make money to pay the bills) due to the treatments they must endure to save their lives.  They are people who have given their lives to Christian service and been faithful to tithe for many years, who now face mountains of hospital bills on top of the fears for their health.  I think of the childhood friend who prayed for years and turned herself inside out to have children, now facing the challenges of nurturing a baby who is unlikely to live outside the womb.  Will the child live until birth, if she makes it that long will she live more than a few hours, and what life-saving measures should they take to prolong her life?  What kind of a life will she have?  Yes, this is a friend who has faithfully served the Lord with her whole heart.

How do we reconcile these challenges with the God who promises blessing and abundance in exchange for obedience and sacrifice?  Are we to believe that relief only comes once we meet Jesus face to face?

I wish I had an answer, a neat bow to tie this blog up with, something to set all our minds at ease…  I don’t.  One thing and one thing only, I know.  It is that God is in control and He is still God, in spite of the difficulties we face.  We are fearful people, wanting reassurance that we can control our future and reduce our risk of problems.  We look to the Bible for formulas that will keep us from trouble.  We pay our tithe, like insurance, in the hope that we’ll be spared from financial trouble and suffering.  We surrender our lives to God’s control in the hope that He will rescue us from all trouble and give us “exceedingly, abundantly above what we could ask for or think.”  And trouble still comes.

I will serve the Lord, no matter the trouble, all the days of my life.  I will honor Him and bless His name, even when I don’t understand.  And I will struggle against the arrogance that says, “I don’t deserve this trial.”  When I truly compare myself to Christ, I find that I am weak, poor, broken, and sinful.  I will continue to believe that God is working all things for my good, even if that good is a long, long way off.

Trouble may come, but it will not keep me from worshipping my Savior. 

*Psalm 27:13
**Isaiah 40:31

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Posted on May 4, 2012 in Devotional | 5 comments

Crime and Punishment

It’s hard for me to think of God as someone who will punish me when I sin.  I like to think of God as loving, kind, and “working things out for my good.”  Surely a kind and loving God won’t punish ME for my sins.  It’s also nice to think that if anyone messes with me, they’ll be punished by God.  I have a protector!  I have a friend!

But what does happen when I sin?  Especially when I don’t repent?

I encountered a situation recently where I discovered sin in my heart.  I hadn’t really taken the time to examine my heart in a while.  I was too busy being in love, planning a wedding, and setting up a new home.  What sin could I commit anyway?  Life was so good.  But God got my attention, returning my mind to something I’d done months ago.  I’d questioned myself at the time of the decision, wondering if it might be wrong, but I was in a hurry and quickly allowed myself to believe a lie.  I wasn’t really cheating; I was receiving a blessing from the Lord.  It’s amazing how quickly we can give in to total deception – convincing ourselves of a lie in the hopes that the sin in our hearts won’t be revealed.

Who was I kidding?  God knew.  And yet I went on for months without facing it.  Until that morning when God would no longer allow me to stick my head in the sand and try to pretend like it hadn’t happened.  And then my knowledge of the sin became so much greater.  What I did was a sin, but the reasons I did it were revealed to me, causing me to hang my head in shame.

I thought I’d conquered that enemy – fear.  I thought I’d stopped making decisions out of fear and had started living my life in total trust and submission to the Lord.  But there was that one hold out, that one decision I had made that highlighted my fear.  In a moment of weakness, I stopped trusting God to provide for me, to protect and keep me, and I grasped what I could get for myself, sacrificing my integrity in the process.  Ugh.

As I repented, understanding for the first time why the men of old tore their clothes and put ashes on their heads, I immediately felt God’s forgiveness.  He does love me.  He is kind.  And most of all, He forgives.

But my sin did not go without punishment.  Because I hadn’t been able to trust God to take care of me and I attempted to take care of myself, I was allowed to have what I had held onto so tightly.  It was meager and small.  God’s gracious blessings are abundant and wild.  He let me have my pathetic treasure, and I believe His heart was sad because I blocked Him from lavishing me with His amazing generosity.

We view God’s punishment as some hammer in the sky, waiting to smash us.  What we don’t realize is that His punishment is often that He simply gives us what we’ve earned for ourselves.  It’s small and meaningless, plastic coins with a coat of glitter.  If we could just learn to trust Him, if I could just learn to trust Him, we’d find treasure beyond our imagination.

Rick is my treasure beyond imagination.  He’s the pure gold coins buried at the bottom of the ocean, just waiting for the right time and place to be found.  He is the perfect example of the way God blesses when we let go and trust Him to provide.  Through his love, God has poured out His wild and lavish love on me.  I stand in awe.

But the small and mean part of my heart is still vulnerable to lies.  I cannot become too confident, too quick to make decisions.  Losing my peace with God, feeling the grief of knowing I missed out on another of His amazing blessings because of my own pride, is not worth it.  I want to see God as kind and loving, but how is that different from the God who loves us so much that He allows us to suffer for a little while in order to understand the fullness of that love?  The suffering, the punishment, gave me greater clarity.  I’m now able to see how much God loves me, how kind He wants to be to me – if I will just stop trying to do things myself, make my own way, and grasp at straws.

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Posted on May 15, 2011 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 6 comments

Boot Camp

Boot Camp

May 15, 2011

On this day last year, I found myself unemployed.  The church that had funded my full-time ministry determined that it could no longer carry the financial burden of the number of employees it had.  The leaders decided to downsize by 25%.  Although I felt that God had been preparing my heart for the change for nearly a year prior to the layoff, I was stunned.  I had not imagined the change would come in that form.  Surely what God had planned was tremendous blessing without any pain, right?

The swirl of emotions that followed was not unusual, but it was difficult.  I have wrestled with feeling like a failure, rejection and fear.  God sustained me during the worst of the down times.  I had a sense of peace in the middle of the storm that I could only attribute to His presence.  My emotions were reeling, but as long as I kept my eyes on Jesus, the storms soon passed and I was able to keep my peace.  Instead of being swallowed up by the negative emotions, I allowed myself to feel them, gave them to the Lord, and moved on.  That is one of the best testimonies I could ever give to the faithfulness of my Father.  With the wind and rain pounding around me, I was sheltered, safe and secure in His arms.

There is another very tangible blessing that I see as I look back over this year.  As a single woman, no one else is here to help me carry my financial responsibilities.  No, I don’t have a family to support, but I also have no one supporting me.  I had barely scraped by while I worked full-time at the church.  I had no idea how I was going to make it without my salary.  With no choice but to trust God as my provider, He proved to me that I was not alone after all.

I was given six weeks’ severance pay.  I felt in my heart that God would provide a new job and I didn’t need to hit the pavement, searching high and low.  But I didn’t want to completely freak my family and friends out by not applying for jobs, so out of respect for them I applied and applied and applied.  I sent out hundreds of resumes and I didn’t get one interview.  Not one.

During that time, I needed to buy new ink for my printer.  That stuff is expensive!  I sat in my desk chair, looking online at prices, looking at my bank account balance and the bills coming in, and not knowing what to do.  I had the money to buy the ink, but with no more money coming in I was afraid to spend it.  I needed the ink.  As I wrestled with what to do, I felt like God said, “Get what you need.  Whatever you spend will be covered.”  I knew with certainty that this wasn’t a license for irresponsibility, but that God would take care of what I needed.  I spent the money for the ink and the next day a man at church handed me the amount I had spent.  He had no idea of my need, just said God told him to give it to me.

My family had scheduled a vacation to the beach around the time my severance was ending.  I hadn’t committed to it because I thought I’d be starting a new job and wouldn’t have the vacation time.  But as the days neared and I still had no job and money was running out, my prayers grew louder.  I continued to hear God’s voice assuring me that it would be okay.  I felt like He told me to go on the vacation, enjoy myself, not worry about work, and He would take care of everything.  He wanted to bless me with the vacation.  I went.  As I drove to the beach that hot, summer day, I played a song over and over in my car – What’d you say to taking chances?  What’d you say to jumping off the ledge?  Never knowing if there’s solid ground below, or a Hand to hold… 

I took a chance on trusting God, gave up the job search, and thoroughly enjoyed my family.  On about the fourth day of the trip, my fear took over and I allowed myself a pity party.  Of course, I missed out on a really fun day with my family while I sat alone and sulked!  I picked myself up that afternoon and placed my fears back into God’s capable hands.  On the final day of vacation, I prayed all the way back to Nashville, begging God to intervene.

A few days after I got home, I went to a friend’s house to hang out.  As we talked, she mentioned that her nanny/housekeeper was unavailable.  She shrugged her shoulders and asked me if I’d want to help her out.  I’d helped with her kids before and loved them, but had never considered making a job out of it.  I didn’t need to pray about it.  I quickly answered, Yes, please.  She told me what she paid and the hours she needed.  I agreed.  It was extremely part-time – 13 hours a week – but it was something.

That was my job interview.  That job soon turned into about 20 hours a week – a low-stress, physical job where I get to care for 5 beautiful children who I adore.  Besides that, I get to help out a good friend with her home.  Ministry just took on a new meaning. 

God also provided a new living situation for me.  I moved in with an elderly woman who needs someone to be present overnight to help her out a little.  Free of typical housing expenses, I had enough money to pay my bills if I lived very frugally.

It seemed that every time an expenditure came up that wasn’t within my budget, someone would hand me the money I needed or I’d get an extra babysitting job.  I have not had one bill go unpaid.  I worked approximately 20 hours a week for six months and in that time I continued to repay debt as scheduled, and I had everything I needed.

As I was only working part-time, I had a lot of time to nurture the new relationship that sprung up unexpectedly.  I spent hours every night on the phone with my new love interest, received visits from him, visited him, and didn’t have to miss work to do so.

My family was concerned about how I would continue to survive financially and urged me to apply for anything I could find so I could have at least another part-time job.  I prayed about it and spoke to my boyfriend about it, asking what he thought.  Together we decided that I needed to be free to travel throughout the holidays (he and all of my family are located in different areas of the country), so I would hold off on finding a second job until after Christmas.  In January, I could start looking.

I worried about how I’d afford Christmas presents for my loved ones.  (I love giving gifts!)  Because of all the holiday parties and events, I was needed to care for the children on nights and weekends.  The extra hours provided all the money I needed to buy gifts.  I felt so blessed.

Right before I left for Christmas vacation, I got an email from the church, asking if I would consider a part-time job at the receptionist desk.  Although I was over-qualified, they knew I needed additional income.  I was able to work out the schedule and left for Christmas knowing my financial needs had again been met.  While on Christmas break, my friend asked if I wanted more hours at her house.  She is pregnant again and needed some extra help.  Between the two jobs, I suddenly had 40-hours a week, plus free living expenses.  When I added up the income of the jobs and added in what I was saving in living expenses, I’d gotten a raise!

Over the last several months, I’ve been able to pay extra on my debt and I even put a little money in an emergency fund.  I still have 3 days off each week, so travel arrangements are fairly easy to accommodate.  And the home I’m living in now has separate guest quarters that make it possible for Rick to stay here when he visits and still have his own space.

I am thankful.  My God has supplied my needs.  He has given me peace.  He has brought romantic love into my life and the joy that comes with feeling loved and accepted by someone I love and treasure.  God has allowed me the dignity of seeing my debt go down, down, down, and my savings go up.  And God is putting me through a new school these days – that of learning how to run a large household and care for many children.  I now know things I could have never learned in books – like how to put a gleam in the eye of a child who feels a little left out.  I’d like to think I know why He is putting me through this training, but I have discovered that what God does is never quite what I thought He was doing.  He is sneaky.  And while there are times that I feel rubbed raw by the hands that are shaping my life, I am delighted by the outcome.

I asked God to put me through a sort-of boot camp, quickly teaching me the things I need to know to get where I’m going faster.  Quit dragging it out a little at a time, Lord, and just give it all to me at once.  As long as it’s by Your hand, I’ll be okay.  I can handle it.  I knew it was a dangerous prayer.  I knew I might have times where I really regretted it.  And there have been times where I’ve cried out, Enough!  I didn’t know what I was asking.  Please stay Your hand for a minute so I can catch my breath.  But He is beyond faithful.  He gives grace.

I see this last year of my life as that boot camp.  God has humbled me, then humbled me again, and then humbled me again.  He has shown me clearly that I can do nothing without Him, and that my pride (I didn’t know it was such a problem) is an offense to Him.  He has proven to me that He will not give His blessing until I put Him first.  And yet He has given me such joy and hope as I explore the beauty of romance.

…He gives beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.  (Isaiah 61:3)

One year later, I stand in awe of the blessing of the Lord.  Thank You, Jesus.

Psalm 63: 5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

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Posted on Aug 14, 2010 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 7 comments

Learning to Breathe Under Water

Learning to Breathe Under Water

Psalm 29 (NLT)

 10 The Lord rules over the floodwaters.
      The Lord reigns as king forever.
 11 The Lord gives his people strength.
      The Lord blesses them with peace.

Today I wrote this in my journal: “The Lord DOES rule over the floodwaters.  It may appear that my life is under water right now, but God rules over those waters and I am safely held.  God has given me peace, just as the psalmist writes.  God is my strength during this time of testing, when my life seems to be metaphorically under water.  I think I might be just as blessed right now, in the middle of such strange circumstances, as I have ever been.  I can FEEL God’s arms around me.  I can feel His embrace, His love, His acceptance, His mighty protection and peace and joy.  What else do I need in life?  If all I ever have is this, I trust God to expand my ability to endure and to become the woman He is making me to be.  Change me, Lord.  Help me to endure and to become stronger.  Let the sun shine on me, causing the waters to reflect off me and display Your glorious shine even in this deep place.  Help me to learn to breathe under water!!!

God has supplied my every need, given me tremendous peace, and filled me with wonder.  Circumstances do not determine my joy and peace.  My relationship with the Lord takes care of that. 

These things are hard to explain in words, but I’m trying.  If I have to be covered by floodwaters to learn that the joy and peace of God are mine, regardless of my circumstances, then it is the greatest blessing I have ever received and I stand in awe of God.  Circumstances have just lost their power over me. 

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.  (Ps 23:4 KJV)

After you’ve been “wowed” by God, there’s no turning back.  I pray that each one of you reading this today will come to understand the beauty of what I’m trying to communicate.  My words are feeble, but my prayer is that my life will reflect the glory of God in a way that will speak volumes more than I could ever say or write.

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Posted on Jul 26, 2010 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 12 comments

Peace that Passes Understanding…

Peace that Passes Understanding…

I’ve become one of those people who pass much of their day drinking coffee in a coffee shop or bookstore, working on their laptops.  I’ve always wondered why people do that.  Don’t they have a home or an office?  Doesn’t the constant stream of people and conversation around them bother them?  Don’t they have somewhere else to be?

I have a comfortable home with plenty of peace and quiet, but I get tired of staring at the same four walls at home, chores all completed, fighting the urge to watch television all day in a state of numb oblivion.  The coffee shop and bookstore have free wireless internet and perfect coffee.  They allow me the faint distraction of evaluating other people’s fashion choices, in the most Christian way, of course ~ “Bless their hearts!” (How can you not notice and wonder a bit when the 60ish guy with a jet black mullet, choker necklace made of bones, short black shorts, bright red socks, and black sandals comes strolling in?  My own fashion sense isn’t always perfect, but some things just beg you to notice and have an opinion). It also occasionally allows me to run into someone I know and have a brief conversation, and keeps me from numbing out at home. 

I sit here with plenty of time to think, feeling the weight of my situation.  For months now, God has felt very near to me in a way I’ve never quite experienced before.  There is a sense of peace and inner joy that I cannot describe or even fully understand myself.  I’ve been free of anxiety attacks and depression, in spite of the tremendous changes and stress-inducing circumstances in my life.  Technically speaking, it’s not much of a stretch to say that I should be huddled in a corner, drooling, and mumbling something incoherent over and over again… 

And yet, here I sit, calmly typing away at Starbucks, giggling at other people’s fashion sense, or lack thereof, drinking CAFFEINE.  In the past, the littlest bit of caffeine sent me right over the edge, but I’m on my second cup without a hint of a side effect.  Who am I?  The answer is, I learned to live out Philippians 4:6-9. 

Philippians 4:6-9 (New Living Translation)

 6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

 8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

I have poured out my concerns to God, telling Him exactly what I need and desire, and thanking Him for the ways He has already provided for me.  I have listened for His voice and done all I know to do to obey Him.  I have fixed my thoughts (most of the time) on things that are ‘truehonorablerightpurelovelyadmirableexcellentworthyofpraise’, telling the fearful and anxious voices in my head to shut up and go away.  Why should I be surprised that it’s actually working? 

I have decided to believe.  If God is God, then I must serve Him.  If someone or something else is god, then I should serve that person or thing.  I refuse to be wishy-washy in my faith, flopping from side to side, saying I trust God but running around in anxious circles, throwing my hands up in the air and crying.  If I believe God is God, and I believe He speaks to me in a still, small voice of love, then I must faithfully obey His commands.  Anything else is not faith.

I believe God has spoken to me clearly the same message for the last several months:  be still, stop struggling, and wait for the redemption of the Lord.  I believe that He has said what He has for me will come to me in His timing, in His way, without all my frantic worrying. 

I have spent a lot of time with the Lord, fasting and praying, laying out my concerns and requests before Him, asking for direction and for Him to open the door before me and to keep me from making a foolish decision out of fear or desperation.  If you really think about it, isn’t that what you expect a minister of the gospel to do when in this type of situation? 

As long as I continue in the current course of action – waiting, praying, seeking God, and trusting Him to provide for me, I have an unexplainable peace.  When I get my eyes off Jesus and look at the waves threatening to swallow me up, I do face an overwhelming feeling that disaster is upon me.  In those moments, I stop and evaluate my thoughts.  I get my eyes back on Jesus and the calm returns.  As I gaze into His eyes, I feel the most comforting sense of love, peace, and comfort. 

I admit that one of my fears is that what I think is God’s voice is merely my own.  As I consider that fear, I’ve come to a conclusion:  If I’m wrong, then I’ll deal with the consequences of my decision.  If I’m wrong, then it is ME who has failed to correctly discern God’s voice.  I will not blame God or love and trust Him less.  I will deal with my own lack of discernment and pick up the pieces. 

One of the things I think God is teaching me through this time of waiting is how to stand firm in my beliefs.  God hears my prayers.  He is teaching me something through this trial.  He is in control.  What have I to fear?  The only thing I can think of right now is that I fear looking like the older lady who just walked in wearing bright green, skinny jeans, a skin-tight black and white striped shirt, and purple high-tops.  Oh my…

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