Thursday, November 29, 2012

At the Root of It All

This morning, Coralyn and I were examining her bag of beans that we had placed in the window.  Just like Daddy's students at school, we are experimenting to see if the beans will grow into a plant without any soil.  We put the beans in a ziploc bag with a wet paper towel and then set the bag in the kitchen window where it can get some sunshine each day.  So far, just one bean has broken up and has a very small shoot starting.  As we were talking about what plants need to live, I mentioned the beans will grow in the bag for a bit but won't be able to survive for very long because they don't have any soil.  Coralyn immediately had a solution to that problem, "Mommy, let's just go outside and dig and dig and dig and put the dirt in the bag for the beans.  Then they will grow!"

As are most elementary teachers, I am quite familiar with the beans in a bag experiment, but I had never heard of this twist of adding soil to the bag to see how that would affect the growth of the beans.  We might just have to try it out to see!  I'm pretty sure the beans still wouldn't thrive like they would if they were planted in the ground, where the roots can spread out and continue to get nourishment day after day.

I was doing my best to explain this to Corlayn in a way that her three-year-old brain could comprehend, and of course, as I was talking, God spoke to me, reminding me of an important lesson I needed to learn.  Relearn, really.

And as usual, this lesson is quite fitting with where I am in life and some of the events that have happened recently.

In telling Coralyn how plants must be in soil to live so their roots can go down deep in the ground to get the water and nutrients they need, God instantly brought to my mind these verses:
"I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources [God] will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit.  Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust Him.  Your roots will grow down in God's love and make you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, how deep His love is."
~Ephesians 3:16-18

This verse, and the lessons from it, are extremely applicable, for several reasons:

*Two weeks ago our house was sold; then came the inspection.  The potential buyers decided a crack in the wall was just too much for them, despite our efforts to assure them it was not a foundation issue.  To confirm our belief, we had a structural engineer come to the house.  His official report: our neighbor's oak tree is to blame.  Due to the lack of rain, the tree's roots have crept under our driveway and all the way through our yard.  Consequently, our driveway has some dips and cracks.  Our house has some minor cracks too, but nothing structurally wrong and don't even require fixing.  We just need some rain, and then the soil will get back to normal, after which the cracks will nearly disappear!

*Just now, as I was typing out the passage in Ephesians, something else stuck out to me in addition to the part about the roots.  The verse before and after were just what I needed to hear as I battle frustration, discouragement, confusion, impatience, and even anger as we wait for our house to sell again and try to figure out what God is doing through all of this.  Inner strength from God's Spirit is something I could definitely use right about now.  Not to mention, the power to understand the extent of God's love for me, assuring me that He is indeed doing what is best for us and will work everything out so much better than we could even dare to dream or imagine!

Last night, Lawrence and I had yet another conversation trying to sort out our thoughts and emotions in regards to our house situation.  We are struggling to understand what exactly God is up to: 

Is He telling us we're not supposed to sell our house after all?

Is He letting us know we need to be patient and wait because He has something better, later?

Is He testing our faith to see if we will stay strong and keep trusting Him, even when things are hard?

On top of that, we are trying to determine how much effort we should put into fixing up the house and making it more marketable.  We like our house and have worked hard to make it our home.  When we hear the suggestion to paint our walls, we take it somewhat personally (even though we know Jay and the other realtors aren't meaning to hurt our feelings or anything of the sort!).  So, to "have" to go and paint over what we like just to make our house more appealing to a potential buyer is disheartening.  BUT, I guess it's part of the process too.  Harder than we expected, I guess.  We have come to love our home and moving and saying good-bye to this place is going to be difficult.  We have so many memories here.  Yes, we will make new memories in our new house.  Yes, we will eventually make that house our HOME.  Right now, though, at this very moment, my heart is torn and starting to break.

Good thing God reminded me this morning: 
Christ will make His home in your hearts 
as you trust Him.

Yet, again, something I wasn't focused on when I thought of the verse.  Originally, I was making the connection with the bean experiment and the need for roots.  Yes, I need to make my roots go down deep into God and get my nourishment from Him.  Only then will I have the strength to live for Him, to obey Him no matter what, to trust Him even when I don't understand what's going on in my life.  God has blown me away, as is His custom.  As a result of my coming to Him, weak and weary, admitting my desperation and complete need for Him, God whispers:

"I will give you strength, MY strength."

"I love you, more than you will ever know.  Don't ever doubt my love."

"I am your home.  No matter where you live, I am your home."

Who cares what color our living room or kitchen walls are?  In light of eternity, it simply does not matter.  What does matter is that people know Jesus personally. And that is the reason why we are moving -- to make Jesus known in the Kellybrook area.  If we have to paint our walls to sell our house so we can move, then so be it.  If painting our walls will eventually help kids and their families come to know and trust Jesus, then bring on the paint!  

As we paint later this week, I am going to tell myself with each stroke of the brush that I am doing this so more people will experience the depth of God's love, so they too can invite Christ to "make His home in their hearts as they trust Him."

That right there is the root of it all!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Of Figs and Faith

I have Greg Cole to thank for the title of this blog post, and the contents therein for that matter as well.  Unknowingly, he prepared a sermon this week that God would use to challenge and encourage me.  Greg had no idea I would be visiting my parents and grandparents this weekend or that I would be sitting in the pew as he spoke at Swiss Church (where I grew up).  He had no clue his words would speak directly to the situation Lawrence and I are in right now as we wait and pray for our house to sell AGAIN, as we seek God's direction for this ministry opportunity He has given us in the Kellybrook area, as we trust that His plans and timing are better than ours.  In fact, Greg admitted at the very beginning of his message that God has taken the passage a completely different direction than he had anticipated.  Hmmmm, maybe God was doing what He's so very good at: working behind the scenes to make everything come together just perfectly in a way that only He can do.  I know I wasn't the only one in the "audience" on Sunday morning.  I realize that the world does not revolve around me or my current circumstances.  I am sure other people benefited from what Greg had to say too, maybe even in a completely different way than me.  BUT, I can't deny the obvious presence of God's fingerprints.  I have to admit once again how God well knows my heart and speaks to me in just the way I need, no matter where I am or who He is using to teach me the particular lesson I need to learn (or relearn).

Greg began by explaining that he originally planned to talk about faith and moving mountains.  Sound familiar?  Ummm, yeah.  I just wrote a blog post about that very thing.  He had my attention right away.

Then, Greg went on to say how God took what he was going to say, turned it on its head, and went a totally different way with the sermon.  Instead of focusing on moving mountains, his attention was on Jesus cursing the fig tree and the impact the story should have on our faith.  Hence, his title "Of Figs and Faith."  With the spotlight still on faith, I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that God would have something special for me to hear and learn.

You see, God has been teaching me quite a bit about faith lately.  I wrote another blog post about that not too long ago -- after God had used Pastor Michael to speak to my heart, again right where I was at in life at that very moment.

I sensed God was at it again, and I knew Greg's words were intended for me.  And so I quickly asked my mom for a pen and searched for some paper in my purse to take notes.  Notes I would use to write this very  blog post :)

In Mark 11:12-14, Jesus and His disciples are out walking and pass a fig tree.  Apparently, Jesus was hungry and searched the fig tree in hopes of finding something to eat.  When He comes up empty handed, Jesus curses the fig tree, "May no one ever eat your fruit again!"  The disciples heard Jesus, and were probably a bit confused (the Bible doesn't say that, but from what Greg taught us about fig trees, I am guessing they were a little perplexed).  Evidently, it wasn't even the season for figs yet, as the passage clearly tells us (vs. 13, if you want to read it for yourself).  So, why in the world would Jesus expect to find figs in the first place?  And why would he curse a tree for not having figs when it's not even the season for figs?!  Was Jesus just mad?  Did He lose His temper and let his anger get the best of him?

Well, if you read on in the story, He did let loose on the people using the temple as a market place!  Jesus up-ended their tables, throwing their bird cages and money bags everywhere.  He called them robbers and thieves, as they were using His House of Prayer to make a profit and stuff their pockets.

After leaving the temple, we don't know exactly what Jesus and the disciples did.  Maybe they finally found something to eat?  Too bad they didn't have Snickers candy bars back then.  Perhaps eating one could have helped Jesus calm down a bit.  (You know what I mean if you have seen the Betty White commercial or the newest one out.)

What we do know is that the next morning Jesus and His disciples passed the same fig tree once more, but this time the tree is not only figless, but lifeless too!  Peter, always quick to say what's on his mind, reminds Jesus (just in case He forgot), "Hey, that fig tree You cursed yesterday has withered and died!"  Without batting an eye, Jesus replies, "Have faith in God."

He doesn't respond as I would have, quite sarcastically, "Well, duh, I cursed it, didn't I?!  What did you expect to happen?  To find pretty little blooms all over?  No, since you're so good at remembering things, you should recall that I said no one would ever eat from this stupid tree again.  Learn a lesson: I mean what I say.  Any one else have something they would like to add?  Good, let's get a move on then."

Nope, Jesus didn't say anything like that.  Just, "Have faith in God."  There it is: FAITH.

I guess Jesus did have a little more to add, "I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, 'May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' and it will happen."  This is where we Christians get the whole "faith to move mountains" concept.  This would be the text where Jason Castro got his lyrics for his new hit single.  This is why Greg was going to talk about faith and moving mountains.  However, God had a different idea.  God wanted him to focus on the figs.

And so, Greg took us back into the Old Testament to help us better understand fig trees, why Jesus cursed this particular tree, and the implications this has for our faith today.

In Hosea 9:10, God compares the nation of Israel to the "early or first fruit of the fig tree."  Evidently, before fig trees produce the actual figs, they have little buds that can be eaten.  Eventually, these early/first fruits fall off, and then the mature figs grow.  Micah 7:1 speaks of the same thing, when the author cries out in misery for lack of the early/first fruits that he so desperately wanted to satisfy his hunger.

Back to the fig tree Jesus saw.  No, it wasn't the season for figs, BUT the fig tree should have had these little buds, the early/first fruits, for Jesus to eat.  When Jesus saw the tree was void of these first fruits, he knew there would be no actual figs come time for them.  Thus, the tree was worthless, and Jesus cursed it.

This goes much deeper than Jesus' empty stomach.  He wasn't upset because He couldn't appease His grumbling, growling tummy.  Oh no, he was teaching His disciples (and us) a far more important lesson.  The fig tree represented Israel (and now, anyone who believes in Jesus).  As God's chosen people, they should have been bearing spiritual fruit, but they weren't.  They were spiritually barren, having rejected Jesus as God's Son and thus refusing God's free gift of salvation through Christ alone.  Jesus was greatly distressed by this, weeping as He left the city of Jerusalem just days earlier, at the end the Triumphal Entry, knowing that these people would soon be destroyed, without hope of salvation (Luke 19:41-44).  Jesus' prophecy of Jerusalem's destruction was fulfilled in AD 70 when the Roman General Titus set the city aflame, burning the Temple and not leaving a single stone un-turned.

I am not Jewish, but the story of the fig tree still applies to me today.  What Jesus had to say way back then about faith and spiritual fruit definitely holds true for me, and for every single person alive, as far as that goes.

If Jesus were to search my life, would He find fruit?

Galatians 5:22-23, "But what happens when we live God's way?  He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way fruit appears in an orchard...The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control."

Would He see my faith in action?

James 2:14-17, "What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don't show it by your actions?  Can that kind of faith save anyone?  Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing and you say, 'Good-bye and have a good day.  Stay warm and eat well' - but then you don't give that person and food or clothing.  What good does that do?  So you see, faith by itself isn't good enough.  Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless."

What would He say about my prayer life?

Mark 11:24, "Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."  The Message puts it this way, which I like better, "That's why I urge you to pray for everything, ranging from small to large.  Include everything as you embrace this God-life, and you'll get God's everything."  It's not the health-and-wealth gospel, but rather the seek-God-with-your-whole-heart-soul-mind-and-strength lifestyle.  As you do that, you will desire God Himself above all else, and when you pray, you will be praying in line with His will.  Wait a second, I just wrote a blog post about that too! I told you God had been working behind the scenes, getting everything lined up just so, like only He can do!!!

So what about the way I pray?  Do I really, truly believe God can do what I am asking Him?  Do I expect to see Him work in my life, accomplishing the humanly impossible so that all glory, honor, and praise belongs to Him alone?  Do I anticipate God-sized results?

Recently, yes.  Resoundingly so.  

In fact, I feel like my prayers have included quite a few, "Move this mountain," type requests as of late.  In the past 8 months alone, I have prayed, asking God to:
*heal Baby Samuel
*remove the tumor in Baby Levi
*touch little Chase, taking care of the brain tumor/cancer that he has as well
*save little Joah, born at just 24 weeks, and strengthen this precious baby boy so he can live to tell the remarkable story of God's power
*sell our house and provide us with a new one

God has not answered every prayer the way I wanted.  Does that mean I didn't have faith?  No, not at all.

Then, how come the mountain didn't move like I asked it to?  Did God not keep His Word?  NO!  God never lies.  He never breaks a promise.  So what happened?  I don't have the answer, unfortunately.  I just have to accept that God's ways are not my ways.  I have to keep on trusting that God knows best, that He will never leave or forsake me, that He will finish what He has started, that He will cause all things to work together for good (be that here and now on earth or not until Jesus returns).  That right there is where faith comes in.  Well, technically, it would be where faith STAYS in.  To pray those prayers, I had to have faith in the first place.  When I don't see the mountains move or when they crumble on top of me instead of jumping into the sea, I have to stand fast and hold firm to my faith.  I can't give up.  I won't let Satan win.

This morning I read in Ephesians 6, "Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Put on all of God's armor so that you will be able to stand against the schemes of the devil...Therefore, put on every piece of God's armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.  Then, after the battle you will be standing firm.  Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the breastplate of God's righteousness.  For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.  In addition to all these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.  Put on your salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion..."

Interesting, even after we are fully dressed in our battle gear, we are not ready to fight.  At least not to fight and win.  To gain the victory, we must also PRAY.

So that's what I am going to keep on doing.

Greg reminded us on Sunday that when we are living out our faith, we will face obstacles.  He shared a story about how his family plays a game on their way to Colorado -- whoever sees the mountains first, wins.  Sometimes they get excited and point out what they think is the first sign of the Rockies, only to realize it was just a cloud.  But eventually, as they keep going, they catch a glimpse of the actual mountains.  He went on to say how silly they would look if they stopped at a gas station in Goodland, Kansas, and played the game in the parking lot.  They would never see the mountains then!  Just clouds.  Life with God is the same way.  If we don't move, we won't see any mountains.  If we aren't living out our faith, running the race God has set before us and striving to know God more and more, then we won't face any obstacles.  It will be easy going.   Why would Satan want to stand in our way then?  We would be right where he wanted us; he wouldn't want to hinder our lethargy or risk stirring up our stagnant hearts.

But, when we are fixing our eyes on Jesus and pushing everything else aside to get to Him, that's when Satan is going to do everything in his power to stop us.  That's when the mountains will come, springing up in front of us right and left.  As soon as we get over one mountain, another one will appear -- bigger, higher, steeper, rockier than the one before it.  If we keep going, though, we will receive "the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us." (Philippians 3:14)

I guess all these mountains mean I am doing something right, that I am living out my faith.

And since faith shows itself in my prayers, I am praying for our house to sell AGAIN.  As Greg challenged us even further, I am praying very specifically.  I am praying that we will be able to celebrate Lawrence's 35th birthday in our new house.  So that would be January 10, 2013.  Instead of having just a regular ol' birthday party, we will also have a house dedication party as we give our home to the Lord, asking Him to bless our efforts to reach out into the community and make His name known.

You are all invited, so won't you pray with me! :)

Maybe all of our prayers combined will make this mountain move in a way that my prayers alone can't.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Kellah Grace {11 Months}

Seriously, where has the time gone?  In less than a month now, Kellah will be ONE YEAR OLD!

Kellah "celebrated" the 11 month milestone on Saturday, but we were out of town for the final weekend of deer hunting.  Well, Daddy was hunting, and us girls were spending time with Grandma Sherry in the house.

How my baby girl is growing up so fast is beyond me.  I can still remember the day she was born like it was yesterday.  And now she's walking all over the place!  Watching her make her way around the house is somewhat hilarious because she's so tiny (comfortably fitting in 3-6 months clothes).  Plus, she sometimes does the "Frankenstein Walk" as she sticks her hands out for balance and then toddles wherever she wants to go.

And boy can she get where she wants.  Today, I left her in Coralyn's bedroom to go put something away and came back just seconds later to find Kellah up on Coralyn's bed.  Kellah was sitting quite contentedly and gave me a huge smile, proud of herself for climbing onto the bed all by herself.  She then proceeded to stand up on the bed and bounce like she sees her sister doing (even though she's not supposed to!).

Kellah is quite the observer, apparently.  On Saturday morning, Kellah and I were in the kitchen by ourselves.  Lawrence and Coralyn had gone down to Sedalia the night before, but I had to stay behind to teach a childbirth class.  Anyway...while I was fixing our breakfast, Kellah comes over to the sink and grabs the two towels hanging on a pair of hooks.  She then carries the towels over to the corner and plops down to play with them. She has watched Coralyn lug random stuff into that corner and play make-believe in that corner day after day.  I guess she felt the need to make up for Coralyn's absence that morning and continue the tradition of playing in the corner, which she did for quite some time.

I love that Coralyn and Kellah get along and play well together, for the most part.  Every now and then, I will hear Lawrence telling Coralyn, "Don't step on your sister," or ,"You can't pull your sister across the room."  I was delighted when the two girls played together for TWO HOURS in Coralyn's Dora tent, without any problems whatsoever.  Granted, the Dora tent was upside down and looked more like a hot air balloon than a tent.  Plus, it was full of all sorts of toys and empty containers and blankets and stuffed animals.  The important thing: the girls had fun AND I got a lot done while they were busy playing!

You would think that with all the moving and playing Kellah does throughout the day that she would be plum tired out at night and sleep for a solid 8 hours.  Nope.  Apparently, Kellah doesn't think sleep is necessary to a fun-filled day.  I disagree and am trying my best to communicate this to my youngest child.  Slowly but surely, she is catching on.  She regularly sleeping 4-6 hours straight, for which I am extremely thankful!

Lately, Kellah has been carrying around her little "bear blanket" and when I put her down for a nap, she grabs it and cuddles it while she sleeps.  Precious!  Again, she got this from watching Coralyn take her beloved purple blanket and bear blanket (a small bear holding a blanket) everywhere she goes.  I like that she has a "lovely" thought and am hoping this will help the sleep-through-the-night process continue to improve.

Kellah eats like a pro, chowing down on almost everything I give her -- carrots, broccoli, squash, asparagus, cheese, bananas, apples, pears, celery, chicken, fish, beef, deer, cottage cheese, yogurt, blueberries, and anything else she can get her hands on. Like the container of grapes she managed to dump all over the kitchen floor while I was busy putting away groceries.  Or the bowl of tropical fruit I had fixed for supper and set on the bottom shelf, right where both girls could all too easily reach in and grab handful after handful of mango, pineapple, and kiwi...again while I was putting away the groceries.

My dad would have a heart attack if he saw that I let them "play" in the fridge, just so they would stay busy and out of my way, while I work in the kitchen.  I know it wastes electricity and energy and all that, but when I need a minute or two free of whiny, clingy kiddos, all I have to do is open the door to the fridge.  Or the cabinet where all the tupperware containers and lids are stored.  That right there can typically guarantee me a good five minutes of peace and quiet.  Followed by 10 minutes of trying to round up all the containers and lids to put them away until I need "me time" again.

Funny how Kellah can be tired and cranky and rubbing her eyes, but then I set her down in front of something she can "destroy" and all of a sudden she is full of energy and ready to go for another half hour, or as long as it takes her to empty everything onto the floor, chew on each item, and then get bored with that activity as it obviously wasn't entertaining enough.  Or she realized I wasn't telling her to stop.

Lately, her curiosity has led her to wanting to play with the electrical outlets.  She knows this is a big NO-NO.  After redirecting her numerous times the other day, she walked right back over to the electrical outlet in Coralyn's room, looked back at me with a mischievious grin, and proceeded to try to pull the night light out of the socket yet again.  It's a good thing Kellah's so cute, or else she would be in a world of trouble!

What can I say though?  I love my Kellah Bear with all my heart.  Every day I fall deeper in love with my baby girl who isn't really that much of a baby anymore.  If a blink too many more times, I am going to be walking her down the hall to her kindergarten classroom.  Coralyn, evidently, can't wait to grow up and go to school as she informed me this morning, "Mommy, I'm going to school.  I'm in kindergarten now!"  Wow, slow down, stop the train!  Be my little girls for just a bit longer :)  I want to soak up every precious moment!

At the same time, I am praying for both Coralyn and Kellah to grow up to be bold in their faith, to stand up for what's right when no one else is, to show kindness to the kids no one else will play with at recess, to be Jesus to those around them.  The world isn't getting any nicer, and I feel like my little lambs are going to face the wolves far sooner than I would like.  I will protect them to the best of my ability, but I have to pray over and over again that they will be "innocent as doves and wise as serpents."  Better yet, Jesus can come back any time now!

Until He does, I will enjoy every day He gives me with my girlies.  I pray we will create countless memories together.  Like this morning on the trampoline, as they played in the leaves and Coralyn sang bits and pieces of songs...some she had heard in church or from me and others she was making up on the spot.  Kellah will be joining her soon as she is saying a few words -- Mama being her favorite :)  For now, Kellah is content to laugh and giggle while she listens to her big sister's songs and stories.

Oh, I am blessed.  Blessed beyond words.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thy Will Be Done

In Christian circles, the phrase “God’s will” is thrown around quite frequently.

For starters, there’s the ever popular Lord’s Prayer (here in the good ol’ King James Version):
            “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
              Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
              On earth as it is in heaven…”

Go to any hospital, sit in any waiting room long enough, and you will undoubtedly hear someone pray something like this:
            “God we just ask that, if it’s Your will, You would bring healing…”

Perhaps, it’s a cancer patient hoping for a test result to come back with good news.
Maybe, it’s a parent helplessly watching a sick son or daughter and not being able to do anything to make their child better.

Of course we want God to heal the person, to snap His fingers and make everything good again.  We would assume that is what God wants too.  So, why then, does God not always answer the way we want?  Why does His will not always include healing?  To us that would obviously be the best outcome, so why did God have something different in mind?

I don’t know.

But, with the Lord’s prayer engrained in our brains from childhood, many Christians, at whatever stage in life we may be, pray very much the same way, whenever we are faced with any type of decision to make.
            “God, please, help us to do what You want.  Guide and direct us.  Show us Your will for our lives.”

In each instance, we God followers are doing our best to do what God wants, to seek His will for our lives. We might word it in different ways, but we are all praying for God to make His will known, to guide us and give us clarity and peace of mind in the decision-making process.

There’s the new college graduate considering where to apply for a job. 
There’s the married couple trying to decide if now is the right time to start a family and have a baby.
There’s the family contemplating going overseas to serve God as full time missionaries.
There’s the pastor seeking God’s direction for the church community.
Then, there’s the high school senior trying to figure out where to go to college and what major to choose.

I remember being there, waaaaaaay back in the day (has it really been over 10 years since I graduated from Berean?!).  My fellow classmates, all of us being such good little Christian boys and girls, were right there with me, stressing about this life-changing decision that would most likely factor into who we would marry someday, what career we would have, where we would live, and so much more.  What if we screwed up and made the wrong choice?  What if we went to the wrong college or chose the wrong major?  Would we miss out on all that God had planned for us?  Would we forever be out of “His will” for our lives?!  Talk about a high pressure situation.  This one decision would forever impact us for all eternity…or so it seemed at the time!
Thankfully, we had a wise teacher named Bob Clark.  Mr. Clark worked into his lesson plans a unit on understanding  God’s will, and ironically enough, he taught this unit around the time when we were busy filling out college applications and anxiously waiting to hear back from our top choices to learn if we had been accepted or not. 

He took the dry erase marker and made a small dot, the size of the marker tip, on the white board.  God’s will, he explained, is NOT like this tiny little dot.  We don’t have just one choice as we seek God’s will for our lives.  If we chose to go to K-State instead of KU, we wouldn’t forever be out of God’s will and never be used by God again to accomplish His plans and purposes for His lives.  Or if we decided to major in business and not youth ministry, we wouldn’t be limited to serving God in just that one particular area for the remainder of our time on earth. 

Mr. Clark then went on to cover the white board in little dots.  Next, he drew a big circle around a majority of the dots, leaving just a few “out of bounds.”  He reminded us that as long as we make choices that are in line with God’s Word, we are living in obedience to Him.  And if we are obeying Him, we are carrying out His will for our lives.  The circle, then, represented God’s will, and the dots inside were all good choices we could make that would “keep us in God’s will” for our lives.  What a relief!  One wrong decision at this crossroads of life didn’t set us forever on the path of doom and destruction, with no opportunity to take a turn and change our course of direction.

That illustration has stuck with me all these years.  I think of it almost every time I hear someone mention that they are seeking God’s will for their lives, praying for His direction, and waiting for a clear indication of what they are supposed to do at that particular time.  You see, we don’t stop making decisions after we graduate from high school and head off to college.  Oh no, the decision-making has only just begun!

Like right now, for example.  We are presently praying fervently for God’s will to be done in our lives as we have put our house on the market and are looking to move into the community where Lawrence teaches school.   We really, truly feel as though He has led us to do this, burdening our hearts with the need for these students to know Jesus personally and grow up learning how to love Him passionately and live boldly for Him so that they can in turn make Jesus known to their families, their classmates, their neighbors, and ultimately to the ends of the earth.  We stepped out in faith, putting the sign in our yard and trusting God to provide all that we needed to make the move.  He did.  All seemed to be going fabulously, as just four days later, our house was SOLD!  Furthermore, the very house we wanted was available, at a good price, and the contract was signed for us to move forward with that as well.  And then yesterday happened.  The buyers for our house decided that a crack in our wall was just too much.  They walked away, saying they didn’t want our house after all.  In turn, we had to cancel the contract on the house we had planned to buy.  What went wrong?  Did we hear God wrong?  Were we not in His will?

I don’t think so. 

We acted in obedience to what we felt God was calling us to do.  And so, I am certain we were, and still are, in God’s will for our lives.  Granted, I have no idea how all of this is going to play out.  I don’t have all the answers.  More questions than anything, really.

BUT, as I have spent much time in prayer the past 24 hours, contemplating what God is doing and how He is going to accomplish His plans and purposes, whatever they may be, I have come across numerous verses reminding me of what God’s will for my life is, no matter what my circumstance or situation.

Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”   

So, what pray tell, is God’s good, pleasing and perfect will?  Evidently, God knew that we would ask Him that question, and so He scattered the answer throughout His Word.

1 Thessalonians 4:3, “It is God’s will that you be sanctified…”

Sounds pretty nice.  God’s will is that I be sanctified – transformed, made new, becoming more like Him day by day.  Yeah, I like that idea.  A lot.  Tell me more.

1 Peter 2:15, “For it is God’s will that by doing good you silence the foolish talk of ignorant people.”

Looks pretty manageable.  God’s will is that I do good.  I think I can handle that, for the most part.  What else you got for me?

1 Peter 3:17, “For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”

Um, wait a second.  Suffering.  For doing good.  Not exactly what I had in mind. 

What’s that you say?  There’s more.

1 Peter 4:19, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

This is not turning out to be what I had in mind.

Huh?  You weren’t done yet.  Okay, (big sigh) let me have it.  Tell it to me straight.

1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks, in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Well, isn’t that fitting?  God’s will is for me to give thanks.  Thanksgiving is just days away! 

Last night, in light of the approaching holiday, our topic for the Ponca and Beyond Bible study was being thankful.  We read verses like:

Psalm 100:4, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.”

Psalm 106:1, “Praise the Lord.  Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.  His faithful love endures forever.”

Both verses brought songs to mind.  Which I started singing at Bible study.  I am still singing the songs today.  And, as usual, I have the radio playing as I go about my day (I don’t do well with absolute silence and “have” to have the filler noise).  Funny, how despite my lack of musical talent or ability, God uses songs to speak to me, to remind me of who He is and how He is working in my life…all the time. 

Like, right now, this song just came on K-Love.  “Only One Thing Remains” by Jesus Culture.
Searching for that song, I found this one.  Same band.  Very similar message.

God’s love never fails.  It never runs out on me.  No matter what my circumstance, God doesn’t change.  Nor does His love for me.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Knowing that, I must decide to trust Him, whatever my situation.  I don’t have to be scared, worried, or afraid.  Yes, I took a leap of faith, believing that He would catch me.  Right now I feel more like I am free falling, hurtling towards jagged rocks below.  BUT, I must remember that I am on a bungee cord, one that will never break, and that this will be the greatest thrill of my life.  I have to remember that I can take Him at His Word.  Like the Daily Verse reminded me this morning, “This God – His way is perfect; the Word of the Lord proves true; He is a shield to those for all those who take refuge in Him.” ~2 Samuel 22:31

That made me think of the passage in Isaiah:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.

Again, so fitting to where I am at in life.  LOVE how God knows what’s on my heart and mind.  LOVE how He speaks to me about those very things.  LOVE how He helps me refocus, to fix my eyes on Him, not the wind and waves around me. 

So, I may not like how things have turned regarding our house situation.  I may not understand how this is all part of God’s plan, how this will accomplish His purposes.  I may not be able to see God’s will for my life from start to finish (thank goodness, as I would probably turn and run in the other direction if I did!).  Really, there’s quite a lot I may not like or understand or see at this very moment.  One thing I know for sure, beyond a shadow of doubt, though is this: 
“He who began a good work in me will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Hmmmm, that sounds like sanctification.  Didn’t I read a verse about sanctification being God’s will for my life?  Yes, yes I did.

1 Thessalonians 4:3, “It is God’s will that you be sanctified…”

Well, then, I guess I am right where I am supposed to be, smack dab in the center of God’s will.  And for that I will praise and thank Him.

2 Corinthians 2:14, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Him everywhere.”

No matter where I live, no matter where I call home, that right there is my prayer, my goal and desire above all else: for God to use me, however He pleases, to make His name known.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Faith, Hope, and With

I have said it before, and I will say it again, "Where you are in life is where you are in Scripture."  I love how God knows our hearts and minds, our thoughts and feelings.  He knows our emotions, our fears, our doubts, our desires better than we know these things about ourselves.  And as we spend time with Him, He speaks to us about the thoughts running through our heads, the emotions swirling in our hearts.  He calms our fears, quiets our doubts, and assures us that as we seek earnestly after Him all our desires will be fulfilled, even beyond what we had ever dared to imagine!  Not that God simply showers us with "stuff," but rather fills us a far better gift -- HIMSELF.  For as we spend more and more time with God and come to want Him above all else, our greatest desire is to know Him, to be with Him.  Like David, our hearts begin to be in tune with God.  We come to delight in God Himself, not what He can give us or do for us.

As I have been learning what living out my faith truly means, God has been showing me His faithfulness to answer prayer, to come through for me when I take Him at His Word.  When I put everything on the line, surrender everything to Him, and take that giant leap, He is there to catch me, every. single. time.  I have been reading the book With by Skye Jethani.  I started it a long time ago but haven't had time (or made time) to pick it up again, until this weekend.  Lawrence and Coralyn are gone deer hunting, so it's just Kellah and me here at home.  Funny how having one less child provides you with more "free" time in two days than you've had in the past three years :)  Anyway, after Kellah has gone to bed at 8 pm, I have been reading.  And of course, what Jethani is talking about fits exactly with what is happening in our lives as we have been praying about moving and now are getting ready to do just that in a few short weeks!

Jethani uses an illustration from Henri Nouwen to describe faith.  Nouwen attended a performance of the Flying Rodleighs, a trapeze troupe from South Africa.  The acrobats did more than entertain him; they taught him about theology, as they exemplified faith in action.  As Nouwen watched the trapeze artists flying through the air, he was mesmorized by their daring feats.  Then, he turned his attention from the flyer to the catcher, and realized who the real star of the show actually was.  Not the flyer, but the catcher.  Without the catcher, the show could not happen.  Nouwen wrote, "While everyone is focused on the flyer's arial maneuvers, they sometimes fail to see that the maneuvers are only possible because the flyer fully trusts that he will be caught.  Everything depends on the catcher."

Nouwen took what he learned at the trapeze performance and applied it to his relationship with God.  Jethani encourages us to do the same.  He explains, "Faith is the opposite of seeking control.  It is surrendering control.  It embraces the truth that control is an illusion -- we never had it and we never will.  Rather than trying to overcome our fears by seeking more control, the solution offered by 'life WITH God' is precisely the opposite -- we overcome fear by surrendering control.  But surrender is only possible if we have total assurance that we are safe.  We must be convinced that if we let go we will be caught.  This assurance only comes when we trust that our heavenly Father desires to be WITH us and will not let us fall."

As I contemplate faith and what it looks like in my daily life, I keep coming across the fact that faith requires trust.  Trust is founded in the confidence that someone will come through for you, that you can fully rely on them, no matter the situation.  This confidence is possible only when you know someone personally, closely, deeply, intimately.  And that type of relationship happens when you spend time -- lots of time -- with someone, day after day after day after day.  Jethani agrees, "It is the experiential knowledge of God's love -- His unyielding goodness toward us -- that delivers us from fear and gives us the courage to surrender to Him.  Real faith, real surrender is only possible in the 'life WITH God' posture.  When we live with God, when we are united with Him and experience His goodness and love, fear loses its grip on our souls.  With promises of God's boundless love, 'life WITH God' breaks the endless cycle of fear and striving for control.  When we live in rich communion with God, we are set free to fly, knowing that the Catcher will never let us fall."

I read all of this Friday evening and then some more on Saturday morning during Kellah's nap.  Then, I go to church Saturday evening and hear Pastor Michael talk about how God wants us to spend time with Him, to invite Him into every part of our day, to respond to His invitation to abide in His presence at all times, no matter what we may be doing.  Think God is trying to tell me something...

This morning I read in my Bible James chapter 4.  The heading, "Drawing Close to God."  Verse 8 affirmed what I have been reading and hearing, "Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you."  I go on and see in verse 10, "When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on Him, He will lift you up and give you honor."  Sounds like surrender to me.  Goes right along with what Jethani and Nouwen were describing when they spoke of living by faith.

There's that faith word again.  Another concept that I have discovered goes hand in hand with faith (in addition to trust) is hope.  Back in high school, my Bible teacher Mr. Bob Clark defined faith/hope as "confident expectation."  Ironically enough, the Daily Verse that I get on my phone every morning went right along with that idea.  Hebrews 11:1, "What is faith?  It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen.  It is the evidence of things we cannot see."  Coincidence?  I think not.

A few verses later in Hebrews, the author has more to say about faith, "So, you see, it is impossible to please God without faith.  Anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that there is a God and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him."  Again faith and communion with God -- desiring Him above all else, pursuing Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength -- cannot be separated.

This past week, I have definitely seen God bless my socks off as we stepped out in faith and put our house on the market in response to His "call" for us to move into the Kellybrook area and serve Him as "missionaries" in that community.  We didn't know how things would play out.  We didn't have control over anything: getting showings, people liking the house, someone making an offer on the house, the house we like still being available, the owners of that house accepting our offer.  Everything was in God's hands.  And of course, that is the best place to be.  So, we prayed.  We waited.  We trusted God would do His thing.

Boy, did He!

In just FOUR days, our house was sold. In SIX days, we had made an offer on the house we wanted and reached an agreement with the owners (who just so happen to be a former student's family!).  Now, we wait for inspections.  Once more, I must believe that God will work everything out.  I am a bit worried, but I must not give into that fear.  I have to remember to replace my fear with faith, to remain confident that God is in control, that He will certainly "finish this good work that He has begun."

I still have much to learn about faith, trust, and hope.  As the apostle Paul said of himself, "I don't mean to say that I have already achieved these things o that I have already reached perfection!  But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all the Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be.  No dear, brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven."

With that verse in mind, I flip back in my Bible once more to the book of Hebrews.  "Let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish."  Yet again, I see that faith depends on my relationship with Jesus, on my consistency in spending time with Him, in abiding in His presence no matter what is going on around me.  He is my focus, the apple of my eye.  He is what I want and long for more than anything else.

Psalm 42: 1-2,5, "As the deer pants for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.  I thirst for God, the living God.  When can I come and stand before Him?  I will put my hope in God!  I will praise Him again -- my Savior and my God!"

Psalm 63:1-8
"O God, You are my God;
I earnestly search for You.
My soul thirsts for You;
my whole body longs for You
in this parched and weary land
where there is no water.
I have seen You in Your sanctuary
and gazed upon Your power and glory.
Your unfailing love is better to me than life itself;
how I praise You!
I will honor You as long as I live,
lifting up my hand to You in prayer.
You satisfy me more than the richest of foods.
I will praise You with songs of joy.
I lie awake thinking of You,
meditating on You through the night.
I think how much You have helped me;
I sing for joy in the shadow of Your protecting wings.
I follow close behind You;
Your strong right hand holds me securely."

This whole living by faith thing is extremely scary, but also super exhilarating and deeply satisfying.  I am coming to realize how truly rewarding spending time with God is, not just for five minutes in the morning, but all day long.  I have learned from others and been encouraged by those who dare to put God first and live boldly and passionately for Him, even when it doesn't humanly make sense.  I hope and pray that our story does the same for you.  Together, may we forsake all else and follow hard after our Jesus.  As a result, may countless others turn their eyes toward our awesome Savior and join us in praising Him,.

Psalm 64:10, 9, 
"The godly will rejoice in the Lord and find shelter in Him.  
And those who do what is right will praise Him.  
Then everyone will stand in awe, 
proclaiming the mighty acts of God, 
realizing all the amazing things He does."

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Took the Words Right out of My Mouth

As the reality that we have sold our house and signed a contract to buy a new one sinks in, I haven't really been able to make sense of all the thoughts running through my head.  I have been trying to figure out how to verbally express (via this blog and facebook, really) my gratitude and appreciation to God for the way He has worked everything out so far, but I am simply left speechless.  God has just blown me away, yet again, with His faithfulness and goodness, which He has showered down on us in great abundance.  I don't know what to say except, "Thank You," but somehow that doesn't seem like it's quite adequate.  So I keep saying it over and over and over again.  Fittingly enough, we sang songs at church tonight that focused on thankfulness and read Scripture verses, most of which David penned thousands of years ago, that seemed to have been written based on what I have been thinking and feeling this past week.  Rather than trying to articulate my muddled thoughts, I decided to share some of the verses that God has brought to mind and do a much better job than I ever could.

Psalm 65:5, "You faithfully answer our prayers with awesome deeds, O God our Savior."

Isaiah  65:24, "I will answer them before they even call to me.  While they are still talking about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers!"

Psalm 116:1, "I love the Lord because He hears my voice and my prayer for mercy."

Psalm 66:19, "But God did listen!  He paid attention to my prayer."

Colossians 2:7, "Let your roots grow down into Jesus, and let your lives be built on Him.  Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness."

1 Timothy 1:14, "Oh how generous and gracious our Lord was!  He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus."

Hebrews 11:1, "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see."

James 2:14, "What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don't show it by your actions?  Can that kind of faith save anyone?"

Psalm 37 was kind of like a jackpot, as it has always been one of my favorites.

Psalm 37:4-5, "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act."

Psalm 37: 18, "Day by day the Lord takes care of the innocent, and they will receive an inheritance that lasts forever."

Psalm 37:23, "The Lord directs the steps of the godly.  He takes delight in every detail of their lives."

Psalm 37:34, "Put your hope in the Lord.  Travel steadily on His path.  He will honor you by giving you the land."

I am sure many more verses are fitting with how I am feeling and would help me express my thankfulness to God for what He has done.  But, I will stop for now.  Bottom line: God has made all of this possible and all the glory goes to Him.  I want to praise Him and make His name famous.  I want people to see my life and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is alive and at work in me, that I love Him with every fiber of my being, and that He has filled me to overflowing with joy and peace as a result.

I have to end with this:
Psalm 73:28, "But as for me, how good it is to be near God!  I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things You do."

The Message put the same verse this way, and I thought the wording was perfect:
"But I'm in the very presence of God -- oh, how refreshing it is!  I've made Lord God my home.  God, I'm telling the world what you do!"

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Ready, Ready, Ready

Ever since Saturday, I have been working hard to get the house ready for showings, and then KEEPING it ready so that at the drop of a hat we can be ready to leave if a showing is scheduled with only thirty minutes advance notice.

I have been praying and praying and praying for showings, but I never really know for sure if we will have one on any given day or not.  So I just have to act like we will and make sure everything is ready to go.  Keeping the house "picture perfect" is quite difficult with two little girls and two little boys who don't understand the frustration I experience when I finish cleaning up in one room only to find the floor covered with toys in another room.  Not to mention graham cracker crumbs scattered about and a sippy cup tipped over and dripping milk on the carpet.

Needless to say, I have been praying for a quick sell :)  However long this process takes, though, I will do my best to ensure that the house is ready for a showing on any given day at any given time.  As I was wiping down the counters, sweeping the kitchen floor, and putting shoes away for the 103rd time this morning, God reminded me of something far more important than having my house ready for a possible showing (well, this morning it was an actual showing, but still...).

Are you ready for Me to come back?  

Are you working this hard to make sure everything is order when I return?  

Are you this earnest in waiting to see Me?  

Do you have this same anticipation as you look forward to the trumpet sounding to announce My arrival as you do for the phone to ring to let you know someone wants to schedule a showing?

I immediately thought of the various parables Jesus told to emphasize how important being ready for His return is.  The ten bridesmaids came to mind.  As did the three servants each entrusted with a different amount of their master's money based on their abilities.  I did a search for more passages where Jesus spoke of being ready to welcome Him back, and this one about the homeowner stuck out to me as well.  That triggered my memory of the verse where Jesus likens His return to that of a thief in the night.  Ironically, the next verse is about how labor starts for a woman suddenly, without too much advance warning.  Being a birth instructor and doula (now on call for my clients estimated to have their baby in December), I appreciated the comparison.  No matter what the illustration or story, the basic principle is the same: 

"You must be ready all the time
for the Son of Man will come when least expected." 
(Luke 12:40)

Thankfully, I had a little advance warning for the showing we had this morning.  I got a text yesterday asking if a realtor could the house from 10-11 am.  I wanted to say NO.  Don't you realize I have 4 small children during the day, three of whom take naps sometime between 8:30 and 10:30?  Don't you realize that will throw off the schedule?  Don't you realize that I will have four cranky kiddos on my hands for the rest of the day?  But of course, I didn't say any of those things. Instead, I simply responded YES and prayed God would help me figure out two things: first, how to get the house ready and keep it ready with four small children who want to play and second, how to get all four kids out of the house and to the park without use of a car.  Well, He answered my prayer on both accounts.  I buckled the boys into the double stroller, put Kellah in the sling, and had Coralyn walk beside us as we made our way to the church park nearby.  When we left the house was as clean as it has ever been in the past 5 and half years that we have been living here!

We had a wonderful time at the park.  Kellah even decided that she was big enough to go down the tunnel slide all by herself!!!  We all made it back in one piece too.  I was hoping Coralyn would be tired out from all the walking and playing, but oh no, she is going strong, playing away with Kellah and Abigail in her room, getting out all those toys I so carefully put away earlier today! :)

I have no idea what the people who came today thought of the house.  I am hoping they loved it and make an offer.  If not, I will just be ready for the next showing, whenever that may be.

And as I work to keep the house ready at all times, I want to do better to keep my heart ready at all times for Jesus' return.  Who knows, today could be the day He comes back!  

Then, I really won't have to worry about keeping the kitchen floor sparkling or all the gazillion toys put away or the counters cleared off or the carpet vacuumed.  

Regardless, I want to be ready when that trumpet sounds and Jesus comes down out of the clouds.  I want to be ready to run into His outstretched arms.  I want to be ready to hear Him tell me, "Well done, my good and faithful servant.  Well done."  I want to be ready to spend eternity with my Jesus!!!!

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