Friday, June 29, 2012

He Never Lets Go

Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside.  (Psalm 73:21 NLT)

Has your heart ever been bitter? 

It is so easy to allow bitterness to hold a death grip on our life; when our life doesn’t turn out like we think it should, when we see other people receiving accolades that we feel are due to us and not them, when God seems distant in our greatest time of need, when friends let us down, when evil people are seemingly blessed and those whole heartedly following God are punished. 

I confess I have struggled with bitterness at various times in my life.  I can recall one of those times very clearly . . .

My friend and I had a friendship but it wasn’t always easy.  She always seemed to hold something back.  We would be traveling along pretty smoothly in our relationship and then all of a sudden it was as if I ran smack into a wall – too high to climb too wide to go around.  It was disheartening and I found myself often questioning why we were friends.  Then time and differences took us a part . . .

A couple of years later God brought us back together and I wondered if the relationship would be the same.  For a while it seemed different, she was openly sharing some really difficult struggles.  These struggles were pretty huge and I began fasting and praying weekly for her.  Then slowly our relationship began to erode and we went our separate ways.

A short time later the tables were turned and I now found myself in a series of difficult situations but she was nowhere to be seen.  I was hurt.  I had been there for her why wasn’t she there for me?  And if that wasn't enough, I began to see God’s blessing poured out in her life and the hurt burrowed deep into my heart.

I drank the poison, allowing bitterness to do its insidious work in my life.  It colored everything; my circumstances, my relationship with God, my relationship with my family and friends.  I could feel myself pulling inward in self protection mode.  I knew it wasn’t healthy but had no power within me to stop.  I became judgmental and jaded.

But God never let go of me during this time.  He never gave up on me.

Look at what the writer of Psalm 73 says as he continues his conversation with God. . .

I was so foolish and ignorant – I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.  Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny.  Whom have I in heaven but you?  I desire you more than anything on earth.  My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.  (Psalm 73:23-26 NLT)

Yet I still belong to You . . . even in the midst of my bitterness I still belonged to God.  He didn’t give up on me or let me go!  And He doesn’t give up on you or let you go either!  He is ours forever!

That difficult time allowed me to see God in a way I had never seen Him before and it showed me how easily I can lose my way and turn my heart away from the One who loves me the most.

That friendship has never been restored but God has taught me to pray for blessing in her life and through that He has set me free from the bitterness that so long ensnared me and kept me from truly growing in my walk with Him.  With all my heart I echo the words of the Psalmist. . .

Whom have I in heaven but YOU?  I desire YOU more than anything on earth!  My spirit may grow weak but God remains the STRENGTH of my heart; He is mine FOREVER!  (Psalm 73:25-26 NLT)

Thank you Lord, for never letting go . . .

Monday, June 18, 2012

Chains of Perfectionism

You would not be pleased with sacrifices or I would bring them.  If I brought you a burnt offering, you would not accept it.  The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit.  A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise.    Psalm 51:16-17 NLV

These are some of my favorite verses in the Bible.  Granted they are not your typical favorite verses. For most people the idea of being broken is not very appealing and I would have to agree.  But over the years God has shown me the freedom I have when I am broken and repentant.  Let me explain . . .

Since I can remember, I have pushed myself to be “perfect”.  Perfect as a mom, perfect in my job, perfect as a wife, perfect as a follower of Jesus, basically perfect in everything. It was a very tall order and I fell short of that mark pretty much ALL the time.

Perfectionism was a disease of my heart.  The law of perfectionism is this, “You must never make a mistake, you must never let someone down and you must always look like you have it all together (even if you don’t) or someone will discover who you truly are.” 

Perfectionism kept me from being honest with myself and with others.  It isolated me by pushing away the people I loved and the God who had redeemed me. 

“Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you.  I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered.  Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.”  (Psalm 51:16-17  The Message)

God doesn’t want my perfectionism, my self-righteousness or something I’ve sacrificed so I’ll look good to my friends and family.  He wants my heart to be broken; to see the wrong and be truly sorry.  He desires a heart that doesn’t keep secrets but willingly lays claim to the wrong.

For a long time I didn’t understand this desire God had for me so I pushed for perfection and for most of the people who weren’t too close to me I looked the part.  But it was a fa├žade; I looked good on the outside but was crumbling on the inside.  It wasn’t until God made me take a good hard look at myself that I saw my sin for what it really was – alienating me from God and those I loved.   Then I was finally able to let go of that all consuming desire to be perfect and what I found in its place was FREEDOM. 

Freedom to let go of what I thought I should be and freedom to become the person God intended me to be.  Freedom to reach out to others without fear.  Freedom to love unconditionally. 

Freedom to be the real me . . . broken and redeemed!

Are you a perfectionist?  Do you find yourself needing to be perfect in everything, never allowing people or for that matter, God to see your flaws?  God wants to set you free from the chains of perfection that bind you.  

Remember He doesn’t want perfection, He just wants a heart that is broken and repentant and He promises to do the rest.

Brokenness is what I long for
Brokenness  is what I need

Brokenness  is what You want for me,
Take my Heart and mold it
Take my mind, transform it
Take my will, comform it
To Yours oh, Lord                -by Micah Stampley

Monday, June 11, 2012

Worry: The Final Frontier

I find worry easy, do you? 

I don’t have to work very hard at it.  It is in my nature to worry.  I worry about my kids; getting them through college and beyond.  I worry about my hard-working, self-employed husband, my aging parents and whether we'll have enough money for all the upcoming expenses. I worry if we’re going to get enough rain this summer, about a friend who has serious heart problems and if my dog is going to be okay.

Do you find worry easy?  What causes you to worry?

Worry comes in all shapes and sizes – sometimes it’s big things and sometimes it’s little things that propel us to worry.

But Jesus asks a compelling question, to those of us who are perpetual worrierers in Luke 12:25-26 (NLT) "Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?  And if worry can't accomplish a little thing like that, what's the use of worrying over bigger things?"

Has worry every accomplished anything in your life?  I can’t say it ever has in mine.  Have you been able to solve a problem, out of your control, by worrying about it?

So why do we worry? 

What do we show we believe about God when we worry? 

I never like to ask that kind of question because I find I don’t like the answer very much.

When we worry it shows that we believe God to be too small for our problems.  Our worry proves that we can’t TRUST God and that we think we can handle it better ourselves.   And the only way we know how to handle it is to worry!

But didn’t we just say nothing ever is accomplished through worry.  How oxymoronic can we be??

Later on in the passage, Jesus tells those who worry that they have very little faith.  I believe He’s saying that our faith is in direct proportion to how much we worry.   The more we worry, the less faith we have.  The less we worry, the more faith we have, because the only way to NOT worry is to TRUST.

So how do we break the cycle of worry and develop a stronger walk of faith?  Jesus has the answer in verse 31 of the same chapter of Luke.  He tells us to “seek His Kingdom”. 

When we turn our passions and plans over to God, when we let go of our need to control, when we surrender our way and seek His way, His will, God does something amazing!  He takes the worry and replaces it with a Faith that is strong and secure, that isn’t tied down to the fickleness of worry, it isn’t threatened by the storms that rage or the winds that threaten to carry it away.  It is FAITH that is based on a God that is GREATER.  Greater than anything we could ever hope or imagine!

I believe worry is one of the easiest traps for a follower of Jesus to succumb to; it is the sin we justify, rationalize and resign ourselves to.  We are more likely to surrender our selfishness, greed or a sharp tongue before we will even begin to look at this area of our life.  

But remember, worry shows clearly where our heart and our faith are at with God.  

So the next time you are tempted to worry, ask yourself . . .  if worry doesn’t accomplish anything, why am I choosing to do it?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

On the Threshold of Risk . . .

A wave of fear overwhelmed my heart and spilled out in my words, “What do you mean - this would be a good move for us? Do you know how risky this could be? Have you even considered the ramifications this would have on our family!?”

My husband of sixteen years was contemplating leaving his secure job that he’d worked at for all of our married life and moving into the safe and stable world of “home building” – hmmm, not so much!

I had seen the frustration building in him as he faithfully went to work each day and it had been my prayer that God would give him something he could do that would be more fulfilling and less demanding on his time. But THIS! Really, what could be more uncertain than the homebuilding industry?

As we weighed the pros and cons of this decision I was struck with the irony of it all – how risky it was and yet how rewarding it could be.   

Isn’t that the way it is with risk - the greater the risk, the greater the reward?

In Matthew 16:24-25 (NLV) Jesus calls his true followers to the Way of Risk, “. . . ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.’”

What would motivate a couple with a nice home, secure income, two cars and “built in” babysitters called Grandma and Grandpa only a couple of miles away to leave everything that is comfortable and move to another country half-way around the world to share the gospel?

What kind of parents would take their kids from the world of soccer games, gymnastics and ballet to the unknown world of dirt floors, naked natives and mud huts?

What would possess a couple who has just finished getting all their children raised and out of the home to adopt an abandoned child and begin the process all over again?

Many would say they are ridiculous, irresponsible, and crazy. Normal people don’t do that!

But followers of Jesus do this all the time. They leave the safe and comfortable and step out on a road of faith, a road less followed.

The writer of Proverbs says this, “There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. "(Proverbs 14:12 NLV) On this pathway the risk is minimal, the road is easy, the journey is safe but what is the reward?

The way of Jesus is a pathway of risk. The cross is anything but safe. The journey of a true Christian is marked with challenges and upheavals, joys and sorrows, heartache and pain. Contrary to the American philosophy of our right to happiness, God doesn’t promise his followers an easy road to travel but what He does promise is that He will be with us each step of the way.

My husband and I weren’t being called to go to the mission field or to adopt a child but even so we were being called to step out in FAITH and TRUST. 
We took the plunge and God was faithful.  Did everything work out like we thought it would?  No, in fact, just seven years later his place of employment closed their doors and we were once again on the threshold of Risk.  But because we had developed a habit of trusting God it never became overwhelming.  And the best part of it all?   My husband got to do something he had wanted to do all his life – start his own business.
When we’re standing on the threshold of Risk it’s easy to wonder if it will be worth it. Often our choices seem to those on the “outside” and even some on the “inside” that we have chosen the ridiculous, the irresponsible, and the crazy way but don’t forget the reward - an eternity in the presence of the ONE who first took up His Cross for us.

What are you waiting for? Make the move, take the step. In the grand scheme of life you really have nothing to lose and everything to gain!