Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Last Place First

The church I go to and work at has chosen to encourage everyone who attends, from age 12 on up, to read through the entire New Testament in eight weeks.  When I first heard that we were going to do this, I confess I was a bit overwhelmed at the idea.  How was I ever going to do that during one of the busiest seasons of my life?  It's a HUGE amount of reading in a very SHORT amount of time, I’m just saying!  BUT it is turning into one of the BIGGEST blessings that I have ever experienced!!


We all started reading this past Monday.  What makes this reading unique (other than the fact that we’re reading it in eight very short weeks) is that the Bible we are reading from has been altered a bit.  Before you start gasping for air and wondering what heretical thing we’re doing, let me explain.  It is the New International Version but they have taken out the chapter and verse marks and it reads like a story instead of an intellectual book.  They have also arranged the books by authors, ie. Luke and Acts are the first books we read since they were written by Luke, and then we move into the writings of Paul which are arranged in chronological order.  Nothing has been taken from the Scripture and nothing has been added.  However, reading in this new format has caused me to see the Word of God in a new and fresh way.  I tell you all of this because I’m guessing that for the next eight weeks you will be reading in this blog the things I’m learning from my perusal of the New Testament Scriptures.


This week we are reading the book of Luke and many of you know that last year I took on a project to copy down the whole book of Luke (I finally finished just a few weeks ago).  So I was secretly wondering if I would see anything new.  But as God has proved over and over His Word was a two-edged sword piercing my heart again with a very familiar passage.


The story takes place in Luke 2.41-49.  Jesus is twelve years old and has traveled with his parents to Jerusalem.  They are on their way home when Mary and Joseph realize that Jesus isn’t with them.  If you’re wondering how this could happen – let me tell you it’s easy when you have numerous kids, bunches of relatives and multiple caravans.  It’s easy to think they are with someone else, only to find they’re not.  Unfortunately, this is the voice of experience.


When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.  After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions.  Luke 2.45-46 (NIV)


When his parents saw, him they were astonished.  His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this?  Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”


“Why were you searching for me?” he asked.  “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”  But they did not understand what he was saying to them.  Luke 2:48-50 (NIV)


I’ve always struggled with this passage of Scripture because it sounds like Jesus is scolding his parents.  At first glance it seems that he might just possibly be a bit disrespectful.  But after reading this again this week, I saw something in there that I’d never noticed before.


It says that his parents returned to Jerusalem and then it took them three more days before they found him!  I always thought that it took them three days to get back to Jerusalem.  They had searched in Jerusalem for three interminable days before it dawned on them to look in the temple.


Mary and Joseph had seen the angels, the shepherds and the wise men.  They’d experienced the virgin birth of their son but in the ten to twelve years since all of that had happened they had forgotten who their Son really was and they went last to the place they should’ve gone first!  No wonder Jesus said what he did.


I couldn’t help but wonder as I read this if I have done the same thing?


I have a problem . . . What’s the first thing I do?  I get on the phone and talk to a friend.  I try to fix it on my own and only after that doesn’t work do I finally bring it to the ONE I should have gone to FIRST.  Why is prayer always my last resort instead of my first inclination?  Could it be that I’ve lost sight of who He is and what He has done in my life in the past?  Could it be that I don’t really KNOW who He is?


Let me ask you?  Is He the LAST place you turn to when you can’t solve things on your own or the FIRST place you run to?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Insidious Pride

 “This is where I see pride in your life . . .”  my “friend” said to me.  Seriously???!  I wasn’t feeling too friendly towards her after I heard this, I must confess.


You see, I’ve been working on this issue of pride in my life for a very looooong time and to be honest I thought I had nipped it in the bud.  Obviously from her perspective, I hadn’t. 


I walked away from that conversation boiling with anger.  “How dare she judge me when I see the same thing in her life?”  (At least that's what I wanted to think.)  But I had asked for it and she had given it.


I work for a church and as a staff member I was encouraged to go through a process of evaluating my spiritual life.  I was to answer questions myself and then have three other people evaluate me as well.  I specifically chose people from different areas of my life so that I could get a thorough perspective.  You know how that is, the people at work don’t see you the same way as the people you live with at home. 
I asked my husband if he would do it and he adamantly refused.  (Okay, that says a lot . . . )  I finally persuaded him to do it by promising that I would not go after his jugular if he answered in ways that I didn’t agree.  I asked my teenage son to evaluate me as well and to be honest, I was expecting him to slaughter me.  The final person was my friend and co-worker, the least of my worries, or so I thought.


As I read over my friend’s evaluation I wondered why she had answered some of the questions the way she did, so I asked if she would be willing to sit down with me and explain.  She graciously took me up on the offer and so I was left reeling by her comments to me.


Even though I found myself angry and hurt by her words, I couldn’t help but wonder if what she said was really true. I acknowledge that pride has been an issue for most of my life.  Years before this conversation God had begun to convict me about how I name dropped and “handed out my résumé” to everyone I talked with.  (In case you’re wondering what handing your resume looks like, for me it was sharing my accomplishments, laying claim to my ideas, and basically boasting in who I was and what I had done.)  I had been working diligently at giving this area of my life over to God, surrendering it to Him and I thought I was doing pretty well.


I think that’s why this conversation caught me so off guard.  As I put this question - is what she said really true - to the Lord, I had a flashback to a time when someone had taken my idea and used it.  Instead of verbally taking credit for it (which was my regular habit), I mentally did.  I didn’t say anything to that person but in my head I couldn’t help but pat myself on the back and say, “That was my idea!”


As God brought more and more of those times to my attention, I began to realize that even though I wasn’t boasting out loud, I was boasting in my heart and it was oozing out my pores.  I didn’t have to say anything to convey what I believed, my body language, my attitude, and my actions said it all.  And my friend had picked up on it.

As I began to realize how true her comments were to me, I was hit with another daunting question.  If this is a heart issue, how am I ever going to rectify it? 


God was patiently waiting for me to ask this question and surprise, surprise – He had the answer!

I will praise the Lord at all times.  I will constantly speak his praises.  I will boast only in the Lord; let all who are helpless take heart.  Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness; let us exalt his name together.   Psalm 34:1-3


 When I’m tempted to fall back into old habits and old patterns, I want to remember these verses and to give praise to the One in whom it is due.

What about you?  Do you struggle with this as well?  Will you join with me in memorizing these verses so that when the temptation arises, we will remember in whom we should boast?


Pride is insidious, my friend, it takes many forms and it will never ever turn our hearts toward God.


So let’s not let pride keep us from the privilege of knowing the heart of God.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Stillness. . . An Underrated Value


Be STILL and KNOW that I am God . . .   Psalm 46:10


I don’t know about you but for me, this time of year is CRAZY!  It’s the start of everything it seems . . . school and all it brings (sports, PTO, endless forms to fill out. . .), football season, Bible studies, ministry seasons and the list goes on and on . . .


It’s been an especially hectic time this year because the church I work for just moved it a brand spankin’ new building and there was endless work that needed to be done to be ready for our first service.


I confess I feel like a chicken with its head cut-off running around and around in circles, unsure of whether I'm accomplishing anything or not.


I fell into bed the other night completely exhausted and looking forward to a good night’s sleep only to find that my brain wouldn’t stop running.  I lay there thinking about all the things I’d forgotten to do and all the things that needed to be done, making list after list in my head too tired to get up to grab a pen and paper and write them down.  And I chalked up another sleepless night.


With just a little time in my busy schedule, I squeezed in a quick moment with God and wouldn’t  you know it, this verse in Psalms is what God brought to my attention . . . God does have a way of getting at the heart of things!


Be STILL and KNOW that I am God . . .  (Psalm 46:10 NLT)


Okay, okay, I confess I’ve been anything but still. 


As I thought about this verse I had a flashback to long ago when my kids were little . . .  


One of my favorite things to do with my children was to read to them.  They would crawl up in my lap in our rocking chair and we would read.  But as busy toddlers they didn’t like to sit there for too long.  Before I knew it they were squirming and wiggling to get down so they could run off to play.


I feel like that’s the way I’ve been with God lately.  He beckons me to come, crawl up into His lap and BE with Him  and I will for a few sacred moments but it’s not long before I’m thinking about all the things I need to do and I’m off and running without a second’s hesitation.


I know that being still before my Savior is the best way, so why do I allow other things to get in the way?


“Being still” is more than just sitting still for a few short minutes.   It’s STOPPING everything to be with the One who calls us by name.  It’s setting aside the things that need to get done.  It’s allowing our mind to go quiet, to focus on just Him.  It’s becoming single focused.  It’s refusing to multi-task when we’re with Him.  It’s creating a time and space to be fully present with our Savior.  It's a deliberate purposeful choice to step out of the chaos and into the stillness.


Do you see the reward of being still? 


The reward is great!  We will come to KNOW Him not for who we want Him to be but for whom He truly is.  Knowing Him that way will build a strong foundation so that when the waters rise and our faith is tested we will TRUST.  


Lord, teach me to be still, to be in Your presence without being distracted with all that is going on in my life.  Teach me to value my time with You more than I value my list of things that need to get done.  I want to Know You.  I want to Love You with my whole heart.  Amen.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Is the Grass Really Greener on the Other Side?

Have you ever wondered what happens in a person’s heart to cause them to betray someone?  What leads a husband or wife to have an affair?  What causes a son or daughter to go against all they have been taught and wreak heartache and pain on parents they once professed to love?


Recently, in my Bible reading I came across this passage:   Then Satan entered into Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve disciples, and he went to the leading priests and captain of the Temple guard to discuss the best way to betray Jesus to them.  They were delighted and they promised to give him money.  So he agreed and began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus so they could arrest him when the crowds weren’t around.  Luke 22:3-6 (NLT)

I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to Judas’ heart to cause him to take the initiative to betray Jesus.  They didn’t come to him, he went to them.


Judas had traveled with the Savior for three years.  He had witnessed the blind seeing, the lame walking and the leper made whole.  He had been in the boat and watched as Jesus commanded the sea to be still.  He had listened to Jesus’ teachings and observed His love for people.  What was it that sent him on his evil mission?  We could easily answer that it was Satan but why was his heart open to the invasion of Satan?


Could it have been that Judas had become disillusioned with Jesus and His journey?  Was Jesus not meeting up to the expectations that Judas had of him?  Was he beginning to wonder if he had wasted three long years of his life following Jesus around the countryside? 


Many have speculated at what led Judas to betray his Friend.  One idea is that Judas wanted Jesus to defeat the Romans and set up his kingdom then and there.  That idea is a logical guess since we see in the gospels that many of the people who followed Jesus had this misconception.


Whatever it was, I believe that Judas’ betrayal was from a disillusioned heart.  God was not meeting his expectations.  He wasn’t following Judas’ plan.  Judas’ disillusioned heart was the tiny crack in the door that Satan needed to overtake Judas and carry out his plan.


Disillusionment is often the catalyst for betrayal.


Disillusionment causes many a heart to turn away from God. . . when God doesn’t meet our expectations, when things don’t go the way we think they should, when life takes a turn that leaves us wallowing in despair.   


It’s easy to follow God when things are going our way, when life is for the most part fairly smooth.  But it’s in those times that we must guard our hearts even more.  If we don't lay a good foundation when times are easy, than there will be no foundation  when times get tough.
Cracking open our Bible every few days or going to church weekly isn’t a guarantee that we will not fall into the pit of disillusionment – look at Judas!  He was with Jesus twenty-four seven, for three years!  If it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone.


How do we guard our heart from unrealistic expectations? 
It's KNOWING Him –  spending time with Him in His Word and in prayer, asking God to reveal Himself to us for who He is not for what we want Him to be.


It’s grabbing hold of verses like Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT) and refusing to let go.  “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.  “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.  For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”


It’s refusing to create God in our image.  It’s letting God out of the box.


That’s how we refuse to follow the path of disillusionment.  Judas didn’t set out to betray Jesus but that’s where he ended up.  It’s like the frog in the pot; the water gets warmer and warmer and he never realizes it until it’s too late.  Allowing disillusionment to grow and grow in our hearts will lead us to the path of betrayal and we won’t realize where we are until its too late.


I challenge you to refuse to allow your feet to go the way of Judas and instead follow the Unconventional Way of the Savior who gave His life for you . . .  


So that you might live . . . really live!