Monday, October 22, 2012

What are you waiting for?


“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.” -Romans 8:17-19, KJV
My wife HATES waiting…I quickly figured this out after we got married, when we started doing this weird thing a few nostalgic married couples like us still do called SHARING THINGS. One day my car landed in the repair shop, and we had to share a car for a day or two. I dropped my wife off at work, and went on to work myself (mind you, I was full-time consulting at the time, so my schedule was extremely flexible). I had a few meetings that day and some paperwork. As fate would have it, my last meeting ran late, and on my way back to pick up my wife from work, I ran into rush-hour traffic and got there about 30 minutes later than the time we initially agreed upon. I’ll spare you all of the violent details and just tell you that the next day, my wife dropped ME off, and she took the car to work!
Though my wife will tell you I am certainly the more patient one, it is understandable why she and many others hate waiting. Waiting is not fun! Sure, we all understand that there are times when we must wait. But when you arrive at a specific place, at a specific time, with a specific expectation, only to find out that your expectation has been delayed, this can be frustrating. It’s disappointing because when agreements are made, words are spoken and expectations are set, we attach other expectations to those expectations. And when we don’t see or experience something that we know SHOULD be happening, we all experience the feeling that we are missing out, only because something or someone wasn’t ready.
What if I told you that the world is having that feeling right now…the frustrated expectation of not fully experiencing YOU? The bible says in Romans 8:19 that creation is waiting for the manifestation of the sons (and daughters) of God…and just like my wife waited for me to pick her up from work, wondering when, or even if I would actually show up (did I tell you that my cell phone battery died too?), creation is waiting for YOU and ME to finally “show up”…but not in a physical sense. The text doesn’t say that creation is waiting for the arrival of the sons of God, but rather the manifestation, or the revealing…which means that we’re here, but oddly not here. God has created all of us with a unique and special purpose, that purpose is our life calling, and it is the highest purpose we can serve to bring true joy to our lives, give Him glory, and bless the world. However, for one reason or another, while many of us are here (existing), we’re not here (living) in that purpose. The world is waiting for us, and, in a sense, we are waiting for ourselves.
Some of us are waiting because we really don’t know who God has created us to be; we’re uncertain of our life calling and true identity. We live cloaked in ignorance of ourselves—unaware of who we TRULY are. Others struggle with stubborn factors–challenges that hinder us physically, emotionally or spiritually–sometimes dealing with the same hindering issue for year. While many others wait not because we aren’t sure exactly what we should be doing to live out that purpose. For these reasons, we often find ourselves sidelined, waiting for the moment in which we are fully free to live the lives we were created to live. We would love to do live the life we have only imagined, but we don’t know the first step or the next. As a result, we remain stalled by a lack of clarity as to what specific actions should be taken to move forward and glorify God.
If the Sons and Daughters of God were to overcome these circumstances, and were free to manifest themselves to this groaning world, it would end the frustrations of the world, and release a force of change that we have not seen in generations. As a child of God, there is something special and unique about you that the world needs in order for it to reach its full potential…and its time for you to MANIFEST, and willingly submit to God's plan to reveal who you are in the earth. To do so, I suggest that you answer 3 questions:
1). Who am I--really? One of the definitions I found for identity is "the conclusion reached about the true nature of a thing based upon interpretation of available facts". When you hear that particular definition a few things should occur to you: 1) if I can manipulate the facts available to you, and 2) if I can influence your interpretation of those facts, then I just may influence you in developing an inaccurate conclusion. Now consider that the fact that the devil (the father of lies and the enemy of your soul) has been at work non-stop since you were born to manipulate facts and influence lies to try to cause us to reach inaccurate conclusions about who we are...who you know yourself to be may not be who you really are. We all have a little bit of work to do in pulling back the layers that have been placed on us by incorrect interpretations, and discover the person God has created us to be. 
2). What's stopping me? All of us have been victims of stubborn factors that seem to place a stranglehold on our personal forward movement. Have you ever taken a moment to ask yourself the question, "what consistent struggle has hindered me from living out my God-given identity?" And begin to give real consideration to the memories, the lies, the forces, the events or the personal demons that have held you back so that you can pray about ways that you can be intentional to finally overcome these forces. 
3). What do I do next? Many of us talk ourselves out of being who God created us to be because we haven't gotten it "all figured out" yet. Newsflash: you will NEVER have it all figured out. Rather than deciding your destiny based upon all of the things that you haven't figured out, what if you decided to boldly move forward based upon one or two things that you already know? What is the one single step forward you can take that would put you in a position for GOD TO DO THE REST? Philippians 1:6 reminds us that God both begins and completes the work in our lives. It's a wonderful relief to know that I didn't start this, and it's not up to me to finish it--what God wants from me is for me to submit to His plan by taking one step forward by faith. So what is it for you? Going back to school? Writing a business plan? Writing a letter to your spouse recommitting to your marriage? Joining a new ministry at Church? Praying for ten minutes every morning? What action can you give to God to show Him that you are willing to trust His plan and follow His lead?
As much as it may bother my wife when I'm late, she always recovers (she's great about not holding grudges--thank God, because I've given her a few to hold)...one of the reasons why is because she realizes that the setback isn't always that huge. If I'm a few minutes late, eventually, she will resign to the realization that it's not the end of the world. When it comes to our future, however, we must realize that we are all in a unique moment. The world is waiting for the solution that God placed on the inside of you; it needs that book, that ministry, that business, that after school program--and there's a lot more at stake if we don't show up, on-time, in this moment. Let’s realize and understand what is happening in our time; let’s reveal who we have really been created to be; and let’s resolve to move forward with conviction, clarity and competence. There will be no other time. If there is to be a moment, then THE MOMENT IS NOW.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Faith and Influence

At 6 years old, I had my first church experience. I remember going into the basement of Hopewell Wesleyan Church on Alexis Road in Toledo, Ohio and getting to sing to my heart's content while Sharon Craig taught us song after song. "Get on board the gospel train, and your life will never be the same!" It was true. My life was never the same again. And so Sharon became my first spiritual mentor, though she would never have suspected what her influence on my life meant to me then or now.

When I was in 2nd grade, we moved to Michigan to a home in the country near a tiny town called Munith. One Saturday afternoon that autumn, a man named Mark stood knocking at our doorstep. "Would your children want to ride the bus to church tomorrow?" Sure. My sister and I began riding the bus week after week to a North Sharon Baptist Church, and my parents would often drive to church themselves and meet us there since Sunday School wasn't really there thing. We loved the bus ministry, so we often rode home on the bus too singing songs with Mark and the other kids. I remember hearing the story of the Wesley brothers in that church, intriguing now that I realize it was a Baptist church, but I digress. I remember hearing of their trips to America and deciding that I wanted to be a missionary when I grew up because all good little girls want to grow up to be missionaries, right? I accepted Jesus in the children's church chapel at that church. Thanks to Mark's obedient servant's heart, I got on the bus each Sunday for two years, walked into the back of children's church and prayed for forgiveness and accepted Jesus into my life. Mark became a hero of the faith to me.

When I was in junior high school, I spent the night at my best friend's house. Although I had spent many nights in the homes of friends, this particular overnight stay was a unique experience for me. Before heading to bed that evening, the whole family gathered in the living room where Sarah's dad read from the Bible and the family discussed what he read and prayed together. I didn't even know what devotions were until that night, whether individual devotions or family devotions, it was an entirely new concept for me. Throughout my teen years, I spent a lot of time in that household gleaning spiritual truth, attending youth group events with their family, participating in family worship and Christmas caroling parties and various other events. One thing always held true no matter what they were doing; Jesus was always involved. Dan and Kathy Swanson became life-long spiritual mentors of mine. I cherish them, can count on them to pray for my family and me, and I know that they are always available to offer wise counsel. 

I headed to Indiana Wesleyan University in January of 1995. Little did I know that my ear training professor would become so much more than a professor. Dr. Lessly became a friend, confidante, adviser, mentor, and more. I accepted wisdom, advice, and discipline while sitting in her office. When I was sick during fall semester sophomore year and had been sick for weeks with no apparent improvement, I remember her pulling me into my office, sitting me down, and telling me I needed to stop and take care of myself. Period. I remember her pulling me into her office another time when my boyfriend (now my husband) broke up with me, and she knew how very, very devastated I was. She loved me through it, just like she has with many, many students. She helped me to learn to integrate my faith with my music and career path. Her continued friendship over the past 13 years since graduating has been one that I cherish. 

There are others whose stories have intertwined with mine over the years, people I view as godly examples who have influenced my life in outstanding ways, some of them completely unaware of how important their lives have been to my faith journey. I could write entire blog posts about how each of these people has influenced my life, how each of them has become a hero of the faith for me. The thing about each of these people that strikes me the most is that they all just did what they do best. They lived their lives for Jesus in all situations. They are authentic, genuine, Jesus loving servants. I doubt any of them even realize the impact they are having on those around them, but I know that I am grateful for them and their example in my life. I can only hope to be the kind of friend, mentor, and example of the love of Christ to those in my sphere of influence. May God give me opportunities, and may I seize them with passion!

Monday, October 8, 2012

My Favorite Old Testament Action Hero

I love action movies.  Whether it’s a Jackie Chan flick, 007, or Transformers, I am in.  I like chases, plot twists, and dim-witted bad guys.  If they can throw in some humorous punch lines, I’m hooked.  So, when I read this story in the Old Testament many years ago, it became an instant favorite. 


Picture with me: 

An evil king has been ruling over God’s people for 18 long years.  As they finally cry out for a deliverer God sends one man.  He goes to the king with a gift.  Because he is a Jew, and thus an enemy of the king, the guards would surely have checked him for a weapon.  A right-handed man would carry his sword on his left side.  Finding none, they let him in.  The king accepts the tribute.  The man of God turns to leave, but then turns back and says, “I have a secret message for you, O king.”  Unable to ignore such a mysterious turn of events, the king dismisses his attendants and the Israelite approaches him in his private chamber. 

He leans in close to the king and says, “I have a message from God for you.”  The king begins to stand up and the man grabs an 18-inch sword from his RIGHT thigh with his left hand and buries it in the king.  The sword goes all the way through the king and sticks out his back.  But that’s not all.  The king is so fat that the sword and handle completely disappear in his fleshy belly.

The man of God calmly exits the room, closing and locking the doors behind him.  The king’s servants arrive on the scene and finding the doors locked, they assume he is going to the bathroom and wants privacy.  After they wait “to the point of embarrassment,” they unlock the doors and find the king lying on the floor dead.  While they had wasted time standing around, the Israelite escaped.  He made it back to the army and led them down to defeat their enemy.      

That is the story of Ehud from Judges 3:12-30.  It’s the story of a clever, left-handed man who uses his uniqueness to defeat the king and free his people.  Ehud’s my hero.  But, more importantly, God’s my hero.  

I love this story because it shows how God’s plans are so much bigger and well-planned than anything man can conspire.  Ehud was born left-handed.  Being left-handed was not something to be proud of in the past.  Even today, the world is largely made for right-handed people.  The word sinister originated from the Latin, sinistra, which means “left” or “unlucky.”  To be left-handed meant you were clumsy, unlucky, or even evil.  It was not a coincidence that Ehud was left-handed.  It was for this very reason that he was able to sneak a weapon into the palace and quickly pull it out when it was time to assassinate the king. 

Ehud was also clever.  He knew how to use timing and words to get the king to allow him to be alone with him.  He planned to have a sword short enough to be hidden on his thigh and be just long enough to kill.  Whether he knew the servants would assume the king was going to the bathroom when they found the locked doors, I don’t know.  He did seem to know it was best to leave quietly and calmly to raise the least amount of suspicion. 

God can use beautiful, multi-talented people who seem to have it all together.  But, more often God uses people who are rough around the edges.  People who may not initially stand out as the “cream of the crop.”  This is the only story of Ehud recorded in Scripture.  He was one of Israel’s judges.  The next judge, Shamgar, gets one verse stating he killed “six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad.”  I have a feeling I would have enjoyed hearing the details of that story as well, but it wasn’t included.

The nineteen verses of Ehud’s deliverance of Israel is important, if for no other reason than because he got nineteen verses.  If God can use a guy like Ehud to fulfill His plans than I know He can use any of us, as long as we are willing.  The cool thing is that God wants to use the talents we have developed over time, but He may also choose to use traits or characteristics we have had since birth. 

A more modern day example of this was Amy Carmichael.  When she was a child she dreamed of having blue eyes instead of brown and was disappointed that those prayers weren’t answered.  Years later, as an adult ministering in India she would often dress in Indian clothes, dye her skin with coffee and by blending in she was able to save many young girls from temple prostitution.  If she had had blue eyes she would not have been able to blend in and would not have been so easily accepted by the Indian people.  God gave her brown eyes for a reason.

Is there a physical trait that you wish was different about you?  Do you wonder why God made you the way He did?  Have you considered that God may have a greater purpose for you and that He made you inside and out, exactly for that purpose?  God had a plan for Ehud’s left-handedness and Amy Carmichael’s brown eyes; He has a plan for you.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Accomplishment

“What are you going to do with your one and only life?”
 
This question, posed in the movie Won’t Back Down, really stuck with me.  I’m not sure why.  Most of the time I really have no idea what I’m doing.  I have no real plan.  I tend to fly by the seat of my pants.  I have a calendar that I sometimes check.  I know where I am Monday through Friday from 7:45 to 12:50.  I know where the kids are from 7:45 to 3:00.  I have to check the calendar for my husband’s schedule (he isn’t a 9 to 5 kind of guy; his is a three-week rotating schedule, and I rarely know which week he’s on).  I tend to know the day of the week, but not the date.  I am good at making lunch plans, but I don’t really plan much past that.

What are you going to do with your one and only life?  Wow.  It’s kind of a loaded question, isn’t it?  Part of me thinks “Haven’t I done enough?”  The other part of me thinks “Don’t I have everlasting life to look forward to?” 


How much is it acceptable to accomplish?  When do I get to say “I’m accomplished”?  Does that ever happen?  Do people say that about themselves and I have just never heard  it?  Do people talk about others and describe them as “accomplished”?  I don’t think I have ever said that about someone before.  My mind doesn’t go there.  I don’t think to myself, “Wow, look how accomplished Sally is.”  I suppose I should look at what it means to be accomplished.


The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines accomplished as:
1 a : proficient as the result of practice or training <an accomplished dancer>; also : skillfully done or produced <an accomplished film>
b : having many social accomplishments.
2 : established beyond doubt or dispute <an accomplished fact>

Synonyms for accomplished are:  Cultivated, civilized, couth, cultured, genteel, polished, refined. 

Being accomplished may be out of my reach.  I live in a small town and I don’t get out much.  The only cultivating happening around here is in the fields around my house.  I am civilized mostly, unless you happen to be in my car while I’m dancing and singing.  Couth is a word I don’t use at all, so I don’t think I am sophisticated.  Cultured?  Not unless it counts that I know which fork to use.  Genteel, OK. Polished?  All except for my nails.  Refined, no.  I’m still in the refining process.

I can’t be accomplished because I’m not a diamond.  I’m not even a diamond in the rough.  I am charcoal.  I’m still being refined.  It might be about 15,000 years before I get there. The day I get to Heaven, I will be accomplished. 

Before Heaven, I think we just keep working towards… well, getting to be with God at home.  Isn’t that the ultimate goal?  Do the things of this world, or rather, society’s definition of accomplishment, really matter? 
Micah 6:8: What does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

If we could do all of that,  we could say we’ve met the ultimate goal.  Perhaps when we get that figured out, we can be accomplished.  Until then, we just keep getting our charcoal pressed, by the Ultimate Craftsman.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Rahab: Woman of Unshakeable Faith

Do you know what I absolutely love about God?  I love that He loves us so much, He set a grand design into effect: a master plan to bring salvation to us sinners and to still provide a place with Him despite the Fall. I love that He recognizes our foibles and flaws and loves us anyway, still views us as His stunning creation, intimately knows each of His children and draws us unto Him.  Rahab is a fabulous example of God's redemption and one of my personal heroes of the faith.

Rahab, a former mistress of the king and city prostitute in Jericho, risked everything in order to be in line with the God of Israel and to keep the Israelite spies safe:

          "Before the spies went to sleep that night, Rahab went up on the roof to talk with them.  'I know the Lord has given you this land,' she told them.  'We are all afraid of you.  Everyone is living in terror.  For we have heard how the Lord made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt.  And we know what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River, whose people you completely destroyed.  No wonder our hearts have melted in fear! No one has the courage to fight after hearing such things.  For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.  Now swear to me by the Lord that you will be kind to me and my family since I have helped you.  Give me some guarantee that when Jericho is conquered, you will let me live, along with my father and my mother, my brothers and sisters, and all their families.'
          'We offer our own lives as a guarantee for your safety,' the men agreed.  'If you don't betray us, we will keep our promise when the Lord gives us the land.'"   ~Joshua 2: 8-14

 Revisiting the story of Rahab as an adult, I was startled by the sweet hand of God in her life.  With the perspective and knowledge of an adult, I realized that Rahab was very much a trapped woman.  Most likely she was given to the king by her father for some kind of profit or to advance the position of the family.  From a very young age, Rahab faced the fact that her time spent as a mistress would seriously limit her future prospects and her future hope.  Once the king was done with her, she would end up begging if her father would not take her back into his home.  No man would ever take Rahab as his wife knowing that she spent time as the king's mistress.  Her intelligence and resourcefulness obviously led her to grasp onto influence within the city as an information-gatherer for the king. And so she became a public prostitute when the king was done with her, earning herself a home of her own and the fineries that affluent life in Jericho could offer. This Canaanite woman had no background knowledge of God, no believing parents to lead her to belief, and certainly no personal worth from a worldly standpoint.  Yet she felt something inside when she heard the stories of the plagues on Egypt or the destruction of other kings who did not fear the Lord.  Something inside of her grasped on to these testaments about God's great might and His grace; perhaps God filled her ready heart with a feeling of assurance, a quickening of her pulse that drew Rahab to know more of Him.   But I do not want to diminish Rahab's faith.  She sensed the omnipotence of God and risked everything -- her standing with the king, her livelihood, even her very life -- to connect with the Israelite spies and make a place for herself and her family among God's chosen people.

Imagine having to convince your entire family that a foreign God they've heard very little about is really THE supreme God of heaven and earth. Imagine having to convince your entire family that the walls they have so much faith in would not withstand the army of God.  Imagine secreting goods, food, and clothing in your home for days on end to prepare for the coming siege.  Imagine packing four or five families into two small rooms and then feeding them, admonishing them to have faith, while the army marches around and around the city, day after day, with the walls standing firm.  Rahab had no past experience with God's faithfulness to bolster her belief, she had no like-minded support from her pagan family, and she had no sign from the Israelites other than an oath that she would save her family and see the fruits of her labor.  In those tense days before the walls of Jericho fell, Rahab had many opportunities to despair that God would not come for her, a sinful harlot.  But Rahab did have an ear to the still small voice of God, heard the whisper that told her He was true:

           "Then the Israelites burned the city and everything in it.  Only the things made from silver, gold, bronze, or iron were kept for the treasury of the Lord's house.  So Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute and her relatives who were with her in the house, because she had hidden the spies Joshua sent to Jericho. And she lives among the Israelites to this day."  ~Joshua 6:15-25

How overwhelmed and loved Rahab must have felt to know that God not only provided for her family and accepted her as one of His own, but that he sought her out in the midst of a brazen and heathen city. It was no accident that Salmon and Ephraim found Rahab in Jericho, that God gently prodded Rahab's heart to soften towards Him and recognize His people. Rahab probably counted it an unbelievable blessing to be adopted into Israel as one of God's own.  But our loving and generous Father had even bigger plans for her. He planned to bless her beyond her wildest dreams. Rahab had no expectation of esteem among God's people, but centuries after her death it was written:

          "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 yet see....It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute did not die with all the others in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies." ~Hebrews 11:1, 31

I am in awe of our loving God who not only reaches out His hand to us as He asks us for faith but who also blesses us richly beyond all we could ask for.   The moving denouement of Rahab's story is the honor given to her in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, where she is listed in the lineage of Jesus Christ:
          Rahab and Salmon had a son, Boaz.
          Boaz was the father of Obed;
          Obed, the father of Jesse;
          Jesse, the father of King David.
         And from the line of King David of the tribe of Judah
         came the promised Messiah,
         Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord.

Thank you, Rahab, for your legacy of faith.   Thank you, Father God, that no one is beyond the reach of grace.