"I count myself one of the number of those who write as they learn and learn as they write." ~St. Augustine

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Over the Fence... Again

Why she does it, I don't know. Our pup. When will she learn?

Oreo, our 5 month old puppy, jumped the fence again today and ended up down the road. Now, mind you, we live right off the "beach road". Although it isn't a bustling metropolitan... there are cars (and tractors) that come up and down our road frequently. But, she hasn't any idea what she is doing. She doesn't get what harm's way she is putting herself into... when she hops the wall to our yard. Something has attracted her attention--- another dog, a kid, or a cat. Who knows what it is that pushes (or pulls) her to do it; but, she jumps over the fence once again.

What our pup doesn't realize, of course, is that the safest place for her is within our walls. She is most free and most safe within our boundaries. But, still, she jumps.

It doesn't take a rocket scientists to get where I am going with this one... God's boundaries. We feel hemmed in sometimes and jump. We peer over that fence, God's commands, and something... something attracts us, pushes us, pulls us to jump the fence.

Oreo, our puppy, doesn't have to go very far to be smack in the middle of the busy road.

We don't have to go very far from God's boundaries to be smack dab in the middle of a danger---
We, unlike our pup, rationalize why the fence jumping is okay. We convince ourselves that we won't walk very far from the fence.

Oreo is much more simple. She just jumps. No rationalization. She is dopey.

I don't have that excuse.

Do we welcome Oreo back into our yard when she is found? Yes, of course! We are all mixed up with relief and frustration. With a stern "no, no" we put her on the chain. We hate putting her on the chain. But, we must. She isn't safe near the fence and she needs to begin to understand that jumping the wall means a chain later.

Our puppy is given much more freedom when she obeys.

Obedience leads to freedom. Obedience leads to trust.

We are always welcomed back. Each time Father welcomes us, with love... mixed "relief and frustration"... and then He disciplines us and puts on a chain until we learn to obey.

We have a saying in our home: It is better to obey than to say "I am sorry". We take the "sorry" of course and are grateful for real repentance. But, it is much better to see obedience.

"But Samuel replied: "Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams." 1 Samuel 15:22

Why she does it, I don't know.

When will I learn?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

More than these

Jesus sits near his friend, Peter, and asks him a hard question. "Peter, do you love me more than these?" We read and can't rightly discern what he is asking about... the fish, the job, the other disciples,... commentaries don't agree. But, does it really matter? Jesus is asking him, do you love me--- more than these?

He sits near me and asks me this question from time to time. Steph, do you love me more than these? Sometimes the question is about the food, the job, my vision or call, the television, my time, my plans, my husband, my kids... Does it really matter what He is asking about? The point is that I am to love Him first, above all else. All else. I am to love Him with all my heart, with all my mind and with all my soul.

I remember hearing a message preached by John Piper on Mother's Day. In this sermon he spoke about a mother's call to suffering. His message was regarding the general call for all mothers, applicable for all moms, ... a call to suffering. I was struck at the time and still am ministered to by his thoughts. I agree. A mom suffers. The suffering can look as little as worry (is worry ever really little?) or as extreme as loss and rejection.

I call it my "mamma bear" response when I worry about my kids, or want to defend my children, or get angry on the behalf of my children. Whatever you call it... it is a difficult set of emotions and can be quite intense. The worry that can surround, or invades, my heart when I think of my children being victimized, for instance... is nothing short of deep and genuine suffering.

Christ asks me, as a mother, Do you love me more than these? Stephanie, do you love ME more than you love your children? Even to write that sentence brings a sting to my soul... Yes, Lord, you know I do! I respond. But, is it entirely true?... No, Lord, help me with my mistrust and unbelief. Ah! The suffering of a mother's soul.

To release. To surrender. To hand them, my sweet children, to my kind and loving Father entirely is not easy. Never easy. It is suffering... It is truly a suffering that doesn't happen once... but over and over again. Yearly... daily. It is never easy, but it is very necessary. This surrender of my children is so very necessary.

Steph, do you love me more than these?

Yes, make this true in my life! Above all else, Lord, may I love you more! Again, today, I surrender my all, my everything into Your loving hands. I know You are good. I know You are trustworthy. I know You are faithful and Your love is never ending. This I trust. This I believe, help me with my unbelief and increase my faith.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Quirks and all...

Don't we like people to be more than they really are--more than human? What is it in me that wants the Michael Cards, or the C.S.Lewises, to be more than human? As one who works in full-time ministry, I know that some people have this expectation from me. I have noticed "shocked" faces if I confess a sin, or if I share a struggle--- a harsh word with my kids, an argument with my husband, a doubt about God or His word. I know I will never live up to any super-human expectations. I am keenly aware of my own sin, my weakness, my strengths and my quirky personality-- all which make me very human. And yet... I still do this to others.

I have enjoyed reading blogs recently for this very reason. I am following a blog right now written by a Tricia Rhodes. I just finished an amazing book she wrote, Intimate Intercession. Truly this book tops my list of favorites. But, when I read her blogs, I am just struck with her humanness... not any different than mine! She shares honestly her thoughts, her struggles and her victories. Why does this strike me oddly? Why do I want her to be super-human? Do I want her to be super-human? On one level... yes. Yes, I do! I would like to think that she is way beyond me and that I too, with effort, will reach this perfection soon. Crazy, but true.

Do I want her to be super-human? No!, of course, I don't want her to be super human. It is encouraging to me that she is also on this long journey toward Christ-likeness, intimacy with Father. It is good to know that God has to "put-up" with others and their failures... not just mine! It is good to see the struggle toward holiness and the desire to pursue... the hope that keeps her walking forward toward Him that strengthens. It is good to know she, too, is just a jar of clay! It is so important to remember daily that ANY glory, including this fabulous book she wrote, is ALL God and His shining through.

We don't have "holy men" in our religion! We don't have a curtain that closes off the throne of God anymore. We don't need that "one" priest to enter the Holy Place--- He already came and died and opened the way. We don't need a mediator, a teacher or a leader other than our Lord Jesus Christ. We all have access, because of Christ's sacrifice and righteousness, to enter boldly before the throne of God.

I am reading right now C.S. Lewis', Letters to Malcom. What a refreshingly honest portrayal of this "mighty" man! In this book we have a real man simply writing real thoughts, including sarcasm, jokes, and frustrations. He is a real person writing to another real person. Why I want him to be more than real... ? But, I read, "Oh for mercies sake, give me a break!" in one of his letters and I am mildly shocked---with a chuckle under my breath. Did C.S.Lewis get frustrated like this? (Like me?) and Did he really utter things like "give me a break!" On one level, I love it and on another I am slightly annoyed. I want C.S. Lewis to be more than that! I want him to be... well, ...perfect, I guess.

So, I meet Michael Card last Fall... and he is.... well..., just a guy who plays guitar (extremely well), writes amazing lyrics, and clearly loves Jesus deeply. But, none-the-less, he is just a guy. Why do I want him to be more?

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. " (2 Cor. 4:7)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Protecting God

"I am so glad God is not a human... so we can't hurt his feelings."

Me, too, sweet girl... me, too!--- was my only response to this heartfelt comment from my super sensitive daughter. 
Our girl came out of the womb aware of the feeling's of others. She reads a group of people better than her father or I, and is often very accurate about how other's around her are feeling. She has been gifted with a spiritual and emotional discernment that is distinct and powerful. 
It is true that our greatest strengths can be our greatest weakness. While she is discerning peoples emotional state, she is also very afraid of "hurting people's feelings". She hates to be the source of another person's pain. She will often lie, even, to protect another's feelings. She has a beautiful gift that when twisted can produce dishonesty, hiding her emotions and/or a "need" to protect.

This statement my girl made about God is significant. ...truth from the mouth of babes.  I was moved the moment she spoke it out.

My girl had written out her prayer to God this morning. Apparently, while writing her heart she was afraid in a quick moment that "if I wrote that to God it would hurt his feelings". 
But in that moment, the Truth of our unmovable, everlasting Father and Almighty God, came streaming into her mind and heart. She realized, and remembered, that she could tell God anything! What freedom! 
God, the Father, is not a human and He can handle anything I tell Him!! His is unshakable.  She was relieved and continued to share her heart with this amazing God and Father. 

I am so glad that God can handle our real emotions, our real hearts and our real thoughts. We can be honest with this Father. We don't have to protect Him!  I am so very glad that I can't hurt His feelings, too!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Trudge the Muck

It rains a lot where I live. It doesn't rain all the time... but it rains a lot. With rain comes extraordinary beauty ... and mud.

We walked to the coast today. We donned our "wellies" (Wellington boots) and started on our nature-filled prayer walk. Up and over stiles and through "kissing gates" we wandered our way down to the coast.

Toward the end of our journey we came to a path, a narrow path, that was wellie-deep mud. The mud, the muck, the cow-pie filled path was a bit daunting. But, we had our destination in mind and on we went.

As we made our way through the mucky path, I intuitively wanted to side step the mud. I kept attempting to put my feet on the edge of the path... to skirt it, to get around it somehow.

Although my "wellies" could actually handle the mud and water with no problem, I instinctively was avoiding the muck. But, every time I attempted to straddle or side-step, I would loose my footing and begin to slip. Why wouldn't I just trust the wellies and walk through the mud? As the journey continued, I found myself listening to a still small voice within speaking to my soul.

There is just no simple way through this life, this spiritual journey that is life, except to go through it. If we want to get to our final destination, our goal, of being like Christ... we must walk the path following Him where ever He takes us.

But, instinctively I try to avoid the hard stuff... the muck. Often, I try to side step it... to skirt the pain, the suffering, the hard choices, the discipline, and the honesty that my soul sees as daunting. He wants us to walk through it. He asks us to follow Him AND take up our cross. I try to avoid the cross part, sometimes.

The rain brought vibrant beauty... and it brought mud.

Our journey today had moments of glory and a destination that was beautiful. But, a portion of the path wasn't so fun to trudge through. The destination was worth it. And, I kept my footing on the mucky path by just walking through it... not trying to avoid it. I trusted the wellies. I walked through the mud without falling, as I had feared. At the end of narrow path, I found myself at the coast line. The glory of the destination was worth the difficulty of the mucky path.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Soul Silence

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I love quiet. I thrive and am fed spiritually in an environment that is quiet... quiet to the ear, to the eye and to the mind. Finding my quiet "spot" (Mom's "quiet-time" chair in our living room) has been essential in every place we have lived--- and the places have been numerous. I even make efforts to find my quiet nook when I am traveling... Like a plant's need of sun light or water, is my need for stillness, solitude and quiet.

Upon moving to this quiet corner of the earth six months ago, I was sure that I had finally arrived! I was sure I would finally have quiet in my life, my world, my work and my home. But, my Father is kinder to me than to leave me alone in my quiet world. Not yet, He says.

Yes, He has brought me here to this sleepy place and yes, in some ways, it is slower and quieter. In many ways our circumstances allow us more "space" both spiritually and physically to have quiet. This is why we are here, in part. We want others to come, too, and experience the quiet rolling hills. And, yet, I am realizing more and more that the outward noise that I am faced with every day, does not compare to the significant noise that is within. I have a noisy heart and mind.

"If we have not quiet in our minds, outward comfort will do no more for us than a golden slipper on a gouty foot." - John Bunyan

My need for solitude and quiet is keen, yes. But, what I really need is soul silence... soul peace. The circumstances of life and the choices I make can affect this soul silence, to be sure. Real, every day rest and quiet moments with the Lord feed this soul silence greatly! But, the soul silence is an option in all circumstances... in all environments. This I know in theory... and have experienced it at times in practice. I want more. I want more soul silence.

Using John Bunyan's word, I want my golden-slipper environment to go on and around a healthy foot.

Father, kind Father, may I continue to learn to rest in You alone and to find my soul's quiet and peace in You... Your Presence.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Powerful Waves

The coast line here is always changing. Every week it looks a bit different as the tides make an impact on the landscape. The waves work tirelessly day and night to transform the God-set divide between land and sea. Truly, from one week to the next you can see distinct differences made by this ebb and flow of water.

Last week, washed high onto the rocky beach, was a tree stump the size of two large men. It is hard for me to imagine how it arrived there. There had been no storm and no abnormally large waves to warrant such movement. Yet, this is a common occurrence on our coast line here. Boulders are moved. Rock contours are changed. The profile of the cliffs are altered. Trash and trees are moved about like feathers in the air. All this, and more than I know, are accomplished by the incessant labor of the waves.

God Himself, by one word, declared these waves to be and they were. There was nothing and then there was something with one command of God Almighty, my Father in Heaven. "Where were you when I said, 'This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt'?" (Job 38)

This week I read a blog post describing the steady motion of the waves and likening them to the work of God's Kingdom; specifically using the word-picture of waves to describe prayer. I was deeply moved by this picture and the thought of it has done wonders within my soul.

As a Christian, I am called to intercede and to pray. My Father clearly calls me, and all other believers, to join Him in Kingdom work through prayer. He calls. He commands. He invites! This is an essential role of every child of God. Prayer and intercession are a part of our inheritance! Prayer and intercession are a non-negotiable part of every Christians' life of faith. We must pray.

And, yet, prayer is hard. The difficulties of prayer are numerous; but, far surpassing all difficulties surrounding prayer, is the obstacle of belief or faith. Do we really believe that our prayers do much of anything? Do we wonder if the words we say, even from the depths of our being, have any real impact? And, what about the idea of prevailing, or persistent, prayer... Didn't I already ask God for that? How does it all work? These questions and others can be a nagging enemy to any passion we feel for prayer. And, yet, they are good questions. God allows our questions! (This is clear all over Scripture.)

The word picture of waves is not "the answer" for my nagging questions... but, it has been a fire--- a rekindling--- to my passion for prayer. I can see the effects of waves on our coast line. I don't necessarily see the impact of one wave, or a day's waves. But, in a week... and over years... the influence of the waves on the face of the coast is dramatic. Can my prayers be like these waves!? Can I know that as I ask... and listen... and wait... and ask... and listen... and ask... that I, too, am having influence and impact for the Kingdom of God?

Hearts, like boulders, are being chiseled away--- shaped and formed by the Spirit's unseen work as a result of the prayers of the Saints! Trash and tree-size sin is being moved and removed in answer to my prayers...your prayers...our prayers. Each prayer powerful in and of itself, but together with others and over time, with persistence, has landscape-impact on the hearts of men. What a concept!? This picture propels me forward to pray! I join the Saints, the cloud of witnesses that have gone before me, in a chorus of song--- the impact of prayer! Can't you just hear the never-ceasing waves crashing on the shore? The sound never stops. The waves keep coming and keep affecting all they touch.

Of course all prayer, all petition, is only as powerful as the One to whom you are petitioning... prayer is not powerful alone! Prayer is only the asking... God is the One who answers and works. And, our God is all powerful. He is the One who can "do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us" (Eph. 3) He can do more than I can ever even imagine! Or more than I can ask. Moving a tree stump is child's play for the Lord!

And, yet, He invites us to join Him. This is the way He set it up! Could He daily, with the touch of His hand, distribute boulders, grind sand and erode caves... Yes!! But, He chooses to use waves. And, He chooses to use His people's prayers to accomplish His will. Amazing invitation to join in, isn't it!?

The coast line here is always changing. May it be so true of the heart's for whom I am praying, my own included! May His Kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Tired Temptations

Tired. This is what is written for my journal entry. Simple and yet, so telling. I am just tired.

I have made it a personal goal to "show up" for daily journaling. This means as little as a date and at most... well, pages and pages of thoughts and prayers. Some days I have just written the date. Some days I write much more. Yesterday I wrote "tired". I have found that this "showing up" leaves me the room to balance discipline and the realities of life. And, it is a good way to track and map out my spiritual journey. God seems to be showing me, as I journal and blog, the themes He is attempting to whisper into my soul.

Tired. I am just tired. My body, my mind, my heart and my soul are exhausted. There is not one thing to blame for this state--- it is multi-faceted, to be sure. There is much to learn in it and through it.

Tempted. This isn't written in my journal... but I write it here today. I am realizing that in tiredness I am finding a temptation toward sin that is more significant than in times of rest. Or in exhaustion, I am finding a temptation more intense than the average day. This may sound pretty simple and obvious. But, for me it is a good "awe-hah!" moment for my soul. If I know that tiredness is a significant place where temptation is more intense, then I can be more intentional in those times! I may be able to walk "aware" and with wisdom through tired moments. I can guard my heart and my mind. I can purposefully place aides to resist the temptation that is likely to come. This kind of intentionality has been so very helpful in my spiritual growth.

It seems that those places of escape are most tempting. I find almost an indistinguishable "jump" (almost entirely without conscious thought) from a place of tiredness to an escape pattern I have learned or employed for years. My "escape" places aren't all sin in and of themselves... most aren't, actually. But, I believe, the escape that happens in my heart can be likened to idol worship when I am not escaping to Jesus first. Thus the sin. Thus the temptation.

It is as if my body, my mind and my heart have been trained toward a certain response to tiredness. I do this... I think this... when I am tired. I am convinced that I need a re-training. I need to train my internal and natural "jump" to be toward Him first. Instead of the thoughtless jump to my escape routes... I need to re-train my mind and my heart to run to Him, His word and His fullness.

I am so grateful that God knows this about me and He isn't shocked or surprised! I am glad He loves to feed me and let me rest when I am in this place. He offers me sleep, food that will last, fullness of joy and deep, lasting rest in Him alone. I can run to Him in this place and run to Him with my temptations. He, too, was tempted. He knows.

Lord, continue to teach me to run to you first when I am tired. For You, my Lord give strength to Your people; the you, my Lord, bless Your people with peace! (Ps. 29)

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Is.40)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Why we do what we do?

Our heart motivation matters. And, isn't it hard sometimes to even figure out why we do what we do, or say what we say? Do we even know ourselves that well? We are a mixed bag. I am a mixed bag, complicated with "good" and "bad" motives factoring into most everything I do.

God cares about our hearts and why we are acting or saying certain things. "...for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts." 1 Chron. 28:9

What does the Lord see when He searches and understands my heart, my thoughts and my motives?

Even in prayer, the most "private" of all worlds, our motivation counts. "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives..."James 4

It matters to God if there is a hint in my heart of selfish ambition, vain conceit, or pride. It matters to God if unforgiveness or doubt are lingering behind a request or an action. God cares about our hearts.

I want my children to obey, of course. In love, we are attempting to train and discipline them to obey us rightly. But, what I really want from them is trust. I want them to trust me, and my love for them, so completely that they can't help but obey. ...they want to obey. I want them to WANT to obey. I believe this is the God's Father heart toward me, too.

When I serve, when I pray, when I write, when I sing... it matters to God the state of my heart. What does He see there? Why do I do what I do? Motive matters.

Father teach me to trust you so completely that I want what you want! Teach me to know my heart more fully and to surrender to Your will more genuinely and deeply. Father, purify me and make me keenly aware of my motives... the state of my heart.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

No simple answer... just simple faith

God doesn't have to deliver you... this is a nagging thought that plagues my mind sometimes as I watch many who love Him suffer.

Does God promise to deliver you? Again, a nagging question.

Is it coming from within or without...this question that haunts my heart and mind?

But truth and answers jump up from the depths of my soul and answer. Yes! Yes, God does promise to deliver me!

Over and over and over again in Scripture He promises to deliver His people, those He loves and has redeemed. I am His kid and His love for me is secure. Yes, God does promise to deliver.

But... does He have to? Does He always? I guess the question that I wrestle with is two-fold... First, has He been faithful to those biblical promises? Have I seen Him deliver? And, secondly, what does it look like to be delivered?

The first question is hard to answer simply. Yes, He has. No, He hasn't.

Have I personally experienced His deliverance? Yes, absolutely. Have I witnessed others who have been delivered? Yes.

But, if I am honest, I have also seen many who have not been delivered. Or, should I say, I have watch people who have "seemingly" not been delivered. I know of many who have died, been hungry, been imprisoned, been hurt, and been attacked with no apparent delivery. The Bible itself has plenty of stories to illustrate this paradox. So, does God deliver or not?

We read about Peter's amazing deliverance from prison in Acts 12. He is rescued as fellow believers are praying for him. This story is an awe-inspiring deliverance---so clearly the hand of God. And, yet, only 4 verses earlier in the same chapter we read that James, the brother of John, has just been beheaded because of his faith. No delivery there!? So, why Peter and not James?

These past few years we have been praying for two dear ones that have been facing the wrath of a communist government. Both young, strong men of faith were arrested and put in prison. Both left beautiful, grieving families behind. After years of praying we just heard that one has been released and returned to his wife and child. Deliverance!! Thank you, Lord. We also learned that the other received a sentence of 15 years to hard labor in a prison camp. Why one, Lord, and not the other?

Does God deliver His people? When I find myself in need of deliverance, can I ask with confidence? Can I trust the myriad of Scriptures that testify to my Father as a deliver?

This morning, I had a dream that was difficult and frightening. In the dream and shortly after the dream, these questions flooded my mind. I found them to be a hindrance to my faith and my confidence. I know enough to know that I must deal with this before the Lord, not allowing the doubts or questions to rule or reign. I need to wrestle with God and ask for His answer to take root in my heart.

The questions aren't a problem, a sin or a bondage. I think that genuine questions are a blessing, actually. The questions can, though, when not dealt with or talked about can breed... multiply and become bondage.

So, I quietly talked with the Lord. This morning it only took a few moments and I was instantly convinced of the answer I needed right now.

My husband would do anything to help or deliver myself or my children. We know that. I truly can't imagine a situation... a fire, a flood, an attacking army... that he wouldn't fight with all his might to deliver one of us. When I thought of my daughter in a tough spot, I could easily imagine her response... she would ask Daddy for help---she would cry out, in full faith and hope, for the help of her Dad. And, he would NEVER not respond to her cry. He just couldn't help it! If my husband heard the genuine cry of "help" from his little girl, there would be nothing short of death that would keep him from getting to her... to deliver her.

This was the only image I needed to open up the flood gates of faith. I have a kind Father who loves me infinitely more than my husband loves his kids. I have a mighty, all-powerful Father that hears all, sees all, and can do all things. Would He not hear, and respond, to the cries of His girl? He would! Yes. He does! ... And, He will. In this I have full confidence.

I guess the question still remains, though, what does deliverance look like? This is a harder one, isn't it? I have my definitions that include warmth, food, comfort and health. I don't think that God's definition of deliverance is the same. But, that is where the trust comes in.

Am I looking at the Acts 12 story all wrong to begin with? Why do I call Peter's delivery better than James'... If I truly believe that this Almighty Father is loving, perfect and good... then I must trust the outcome of the delivery.

My kids don't always see their deliverance... a slap on the hand that is reaching out to the flames... as "good" or nice deliverance. My kids don't always know the deliverance even when it is happening--- they can't always understand when we are "delivering" them. But, when in trouble, they trust us and they ask.

I trust you Father. I believe with all my being that you are good and loving. Thank you for the many, many times you have delivered me. Father continue to work in my heart to bring deeper, fuller faith and trust. I want to trust you so completely that freedom or prison would be "deliverance", because I know it is from your hand.

Psalm 69:13 But I keep right on praying to you, LORD, hoping this is the time you will show me favor. In your unfailing love, O God, answer my prayer with your sure salvation.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My sin is Respectable...

I sinned last night.

No, actually, I rebelled.

I didn't just "miss the mark" as I am prone to do daily, maybe even unaware. But, instead I chose sin. I rebelled. I knew that I shouldn't be doing what I chose to do... and yet, I did it anyway.

Afterward, I was sorry in the heart about it. But, actually this morning the repentance was deep and real. Sin and guilt (good guilt) are sickening and plague you until you deal with it head on.

My sin is not one the "biggies" you might say. It isn't in The Top Ten or one of the obvious very bad sins (if you could hear my voice you would detect a sarcastic tone) ... sexual immorality, drunkenness or blasphemy... no, no, my sin is more acceptable.

My sin choice at this stage in my Christian life is more a sin of the heart--- deeper, maybe darker even, than the outward sins of old.

We have acceptable sins or some people call it "respectable" sins in our Christian culture, don't we?

My sin is like this. I struggle with gluttony. I struggle with a lust for food... or a heart-emphasis on food. But, my gluttony is not three large pizzas, a pint of ice cream or a box of donuts. It is simply eating more than I need AND it is seeking comfort, pleasure or satisfaction in taste.

It sounds ugly, embarrassing and terrible even as I write it. But, I write it knowing full well I am not alone in this struggle. Even our mother, Eve, was tempted by the apple because "it looked good (pleasing to her eye)".

Was a gluttonous heart a small portion of why she fell?

Respectable sins... hmm. I still remember vividly when the Holy Spirit tapped me on the shoulder regarding my clothing choices.
But, Lord, I don't dress any different than so-and-so in the church. I remember when He tapped me on the shoulder about worry... I would have called it concern then... or a prayer request (because that sounds nicer). He caught me, tapped me and showed me the mistrust, the doubt and the pride that goes hand-in-hand with worry. I remember when He showed me in a dream how damaging my words were to my husband. I was shocked by that one! But, Lord, the ladies in my bible study always talk to (or about) their husbands in this way. I still remember when He brought to my attention my lust for food... oh! just this piece of pie. I know I shouldn't, we say and laugh with each other, but why not?!

Respectable sins... hmmm. Cultural sins... Can I be so bold to say we have a few in our culture!? Emphasis on weight and fitness... Emphasis on busyness and importance.... Emphasis on comfort... Most of these we just nod with each other and dive in--- they are acceptable, unexamined, and destructive sins.

Not that I have the corner market on "what is" and "what isn't" a respectable sin--- for sure! I don't know what was in Eve's heart. I don't know my friends' heart. But, I am becoming aware of my own. I have asked God for this. I have asked God for a keen awareness of the sins in my life, my heart. And, He never fails to answer that one! He wants us to see. Why? Because He wants me to be free.

What I AM certain about: if I know I shouldn't be doing something and I do it... it is sin and not freedom. When I see my children rebel it scares me. It is such a difficult thing to watch them do something willfully. It is so hard to watch them choose something that they know is wrong.

What did Father think as He watched me last night? I rebelled last night. And this is grievous.

So, all I have left to do is fall upon the mercy of my Lord, claiming His blood as enough to cover even this rebellion. What else can I do? Where else can I go? All I have is His precious purchase of my salvation, His righteousness and His healing Presence.
"If there be ground for you to trust in your own righteousness, then, all that Christ did to purchase salvation, and all that God did to prepare the way for it is in vain." ~Johnathan Edwards
"For every look at self take ten looks at Christ." - Robert Murray M'Cheyne

So, I confess my sin. I agree with God that my heart was both gluttonous and rebellious. I renounce and reject the open door that I gave the devil with my sinful choice. And, I turn. I choose differently today with God's help. Today I choose to live "firmly bound and truly free". Bound to Christ and His perspective.

Some may read this and say I am being to hard on myself, or on my culture.

Am I being extreme? Maybe I am. I don't know. What I do know is the prodding hand of my kind Father as He leads me forward through my sinful patterns and teaches me freedom.

What I do know is that I rebelled last night and I don't want to do that again.

"It is a good thing to have a heart within us smiting us for sins that seem little; it is a sign that conscience is awake and tender, and will be the means of preventing greater sins". - Matthew Henry

Ditch Days

He was tired and afraid. He was discouraged and ready to "be done" with the work. Elijah was a man just like us, James tells us (James 5:17). In 1 Kings 19, we see this man-Elijah very clearly portrayed. He was having a "ditch-day", as we call it in our home. Elijah was ready to ditch it and be done.

I feel that way sometimes, too.

There are days when I am so done with ministry and life. Not that I am ready to die--- I'm not. It isn't a place where I don't want to live anymore... not at all. It is just a place where I want to live VERY differently. You know, the place where I don't have to clean my house ever again--- someone else does that for me! Or, it is when I am ready to stay in my pajama's all day, watch movies or sleep, and eat candy non-stop. Or, I am ready to NEVER write another email again, or talk deeply with another soul. I am ready to throw my computer out the window. Or, it is those days that I am ready to move to the mountains of Montana, buy a cabin, and just sit ...and rock... and rock on the porch day-in and day-out. There are days when I feel fully "done" with all responsibilities, all cares, or even all God-given ministry.

I think this is the place that Elijah found himself in I Kings 19. Elijah was a man just like us.

He runs away. He escapes. In our home, we call these "ditch days" and we laugh (and sometimes share openly) about our "escape plans". Some people have escape plans that include an island in Greece. For others it is the little house in a provincial town in the Bible belt. Whatever it may look like, it seems that most people in full time God-work have an escape plan.

The beauty of our good, kind and compassionate (slow to anger) Father is that He knows this about us. Who is like Him? Almighty, All powerful and, yet, so full of love. His mercies are new every morning! His love pursues us, follows us... runs after us as we escape (or even just "plan" to escape).

Almighty God ran after Elijah. Elijah runs, collapses and falls asleep... and God is right there with Him. Elijah wakes up from his place of exhaustion and is fed by the hand of God. It says angels put bread right next to him. Amazing. God knows Elijah needs food. Our Father knows. And, then Elijah collapses in exhaustion again. At each point along Elijah's "ditch day" journey, God is pursuing Elijah. Feeding him, letting him sleep, protecting him and then talking to him.

Why are you here, Elijah? It is as if God just wants to hear Elijah's heart. Tell me, Elijah, tell me what is in your heart... why are you running? Why are you here? Father gently probes, pokes and inquires. No judgement. No condemnation. In fact, just a simple question and a simple piece of bread. Elijah answers God's question twice... the same way--- I have worked and worked, God and NOW I am all alone!

At the end of this "ditch-day", God gives Elijah two amazing gifts. First, God takes Elijah to a place... a quiet place, where the Father reveals Himself. He shows up! God, Himself, pulls back the veil just a bit and whispers His very real Presence. What a gift! This, in and of itself, is enough to propel Elijah to move on, to keep going and to pick up the responsibilities again. But, God is not done pouring out His compassionate love! God then gives Elijah a friend, a comrade-in-arms, a co-worker to carry the load. Father gives him Elisha. Both help and hope are given in this new friend. Help in the now and hope that the work will go on. God tells Elijah with His very Presence that He is not alone. And, then, to top it off, Father God gives Elijah a co-worker. You are NOT alone, Elijah!

Ditch days are real and inevitable. But, in God we find mercy, compassion and love. He pursues us and gives sleep, food, a quiet place, His Presence, His Voice and friends... co-laborers.

Thank you, Father for Your amazing, unfailing love.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Margin Obviously Needed

Advice is often so easy to give and yet, so hard to take!

Anyone who knows me, knows that one major piece of counsel, or advice, I often give is suggesting "rest". I believe so strongly that we need to take Sabbath seriously. I believe that we need to live our lives in such a way that we have healthy margin. By "margin" I mean the needed "white space" around our word-filled, crowded, busy lives. White space or margin can look different for each person, of course, but for all it means rest (physical and spiritual) and space (emotional, physical and relational) in our lives. (I love this term, "margin", and learned it while attending a fabulous course called SYIS).

I still believe this strongly... and yet, I have had a difficult time instituting it these last few months. This rest-advice is easy to give and harder to take. In the past 10 years, I have learned enough about myself to know Stephanie-signs of approaching burn-out, or in other words... the effects of lack-of-margin in my life. One clear sign is the outrageous feeling I have when I hear the simple word "Mommy" from my sweet children's mouths. When my margin is lacking and I have not had enough rest or space, I hear this word (my name!) and I feel like I want to scream! They say my name and I internally wince in pain!

Obviously, when I begin to feel this way, my need for rest is clear and apparent. Of course, the goal is to never get to this stage. I believe we can. I believe it is possible to live at a healthy pace and to incorporate margin in such a way that burn-out is a distant memory, rather than an approaching reality. I believe that God has instituted weekly Sabbath, feasts, and festivals for this very reason. (He calls for a year of Jubilee, for goodness sakes!) He knows us so well... He knows we need to rest. He calls us to rest in Him. Real rest... soul, mind, and body rest.

Of course, when I get to feeling this way... overwhelmed, harried, and depressed, I hear my own words echoing in my brain. You need rest! How will you rest... physically, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally? Make a plan. I hear my own advice. Simultaneously, I hear all the reasons why I simply can't... why it won't work. Rest really doesn't fit. I have the excuses, too! And, then I hear my echoing advice-giving voice once again: You must make it happen. Just schedule it!

So, we did just that... my husband and I sat down and scheduled all sorts of things. We moved and stretched our calendars. We made room for time away, spiritual retreats, date nights and "margin" (yep, the very word written right across certain days on my calendar). We have a "house rule" that the date, or the margin, can be moved... but never cancelled. If you move it, you must find another spot to put it--- and relatively near by! So, I guess we have scheduled, flexible margin that has to find a home on the same calendar page! (A while back we began this calendar-planning-way in an attempt to be intentional about rest and our relationship with God and each other.) This has worked well in the past... So, I am hopeful looking ahead.

This past weekend my husband and I got away. We scheduled it! As it approached, there were 101 reasons why it wasn't convenient or why it should have been cancelled. But, it was on the calender (and it didn't "move" well, or easily) and so we did it. And, It was exactly what I needed. We slept, we ate, we watched movies, slept, spent time with Jesus, went for a long walk, read and slept more.

Today my children are saying my name and I am not wincing even a little! ...a very good thing (smile).

We all need rest. We all need margin. I don't want to only give the good advice... I want to (read *must*) live it.
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