Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Unspeakable Joy

I had a conversation this week with someone very dear to my heart. As they tried to express their current spiritual and emotional coordinates I said, "Let me see if I can explain what you are feeling. Tell me if I am right or wrong. You feel very alone, even though you know there are people in your life that love you very much. You want to serve God and love Jesus with your whole heart but you get discouraged when you are struggling and those around you who are not serving Jesus seem to be sailing through life. You love people but you want to snap on them constantly as they squeeze your final nerve to death. You know in your heart that God has a purpose for your life but at the end of the day you wonder is it all worth it and you dread the thought of waking up tomorrow and doing it all again. You hear people talk about the joy of the Lord and you put on a smile and an "all is well" attitude but inside you are hurting and alone." The response of my dear friend was, "It is like you are actually inside of my brain. That was so spot on it is scary." How could I tune in to these exact feelings? Because I have been there. I have walked this road before on multiple occasions. Once I journeyed down this road after having my thyroid removed. Another time I found myself detouring down this road after having a baby and most recently I spent a month walking this road due to other factors. Have you been there? Can you relate? You want with all your heart to do the right thing, to obey God's word and to walk in His joy but you seem to have lost the understanding of the joy and the directions to finding it. I truly know that depression is a real thing and I have walked that road and taken medication to level serotonins in my brain. Don't be ashamed and don't neglect your mental health if medication is needed; however, at the end of the day medication can only do so much. The real journey to joy is found when we completely die to self, die to our will and die to our pride. My greatest joy is found when I am living each and every moment for the Glory of King Jesus. It is no secret that my life long dream was to marry a pastor, be a stay at home mom and have lots of kids. The Lord granted the desire of my heart but as the boys got older I continued to do laundry, cook, clean and wonder what my spiritual purpose was. Yes, I encouraged my husband. Yes, I trained and taught my boys the truth of scripture, but I knew I wasn't doing all that God had created me to do. He had given me the desires of my heart and I didn't want to change that, but why did I feel so disobedient and joyless. The Lord used my husband to push me back to something I had actually had nightmares about. I can remember waking up crying at the thought of going back into the classroom. How could God possibly call me to do something that made me fear and cry? He loved me. He wouldn't make me do something I hated. Kicking and screaming in my heart, I submitted to my husband's urging and I returned to the classroom. Guess what? I absolutely LOVE it. Why, because I died to self. It was no longer about me and what I wanted to do. It was and is about living each moment and each breath for the Glory of God. My prayer is to make much of His name and little of my own name. I had to let go of the pride that "I deserved to be a stay at home mom." I was home with my boys while they were growing up and I'm still home with them when they are home. The Lord created me for such a time as this to serve Him in a high school classroom. I didn't like high school or high school students when I was one so the irony is pretty remarkable. When we look outside of ourselves and let go of our own desires and wants and truly seek to die to self daily and serve Jesus with our whole heart, then and then alone will we experience true and unmistakable joy. I'm not saying everyone needs to teach in a classroom, but if you are living in the pit of self-pity, the depths of depression, the darkness of loneliness and the misery of a joyless existence remember that "Jesus is enough" is not simply a Christian cliche saying, it is the absolute total truth. Strip away every desire and dream you have and ask Him to redirect your steps and show you how He wants to use you for His Glory. As you serve Him from glory to glory He will fill you with such an unmistakable joy that the only explanation will be Jesus.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Just keep running, running, running!

Believe it or not there have been times in my life that I exercised regularly and actually enjoyed it. As a matter of fact, 6 years ago, at the age of 40 I actually jogged a 10K. That is 6.2 miles. GO ME! While I was training for that event I was running every day. Some days they were long runs and other days they were short runs, but I was faithful to hit the pavement. Until a few weeks ago I have not had much of an interest in running, well my boys call it waddle jogging, but alas it was moving faster than a walk. A few weeks ago I actually felt so out of shape and tired that I truly thought I would drop dead if I walked around the block, but I made an intentional decision to "get back in shape." I didn't say what shape, but I want my heart to be happy and healthy and I want to have energy and be able to do active things without being afraid of keeling over. So, on a Tuesday afternoon, I pulled out my running shoes, downloaded the Couch to 5K app on my phone and set out on a quest to love exercise again. Each day that I purposed in my heart to accomplish this goal I remembered why I loved it and I also was reminded of the things I needed to throw off. I can't exercise in a normal t-shirt. It is heavy and humid and weighs me down. I need dri-fit or sleeveless shirts. I also can't carry a bottle of water with me as I jog. It is a distraction. I need to listen to upbeat praise and worship music and sing along in order for my heart to be focused on Jesus and for my breathing to stay consistent as I sing. I had to throw things off and pick new things up as I went. Does this sound familiar? "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:1-2 To run with perseverance means to keep going and keep doing something even when it is difficult, even when you can't do as much as you thought or the success you had hoped for is delayed, you keep going. Sometimes I set a goal of the next mailbox or the light pole up ahead, if I can run to that point I will walk for a few minutes. Then I set a new goal, but the key is to keep going. Have you every been there is your walk with Jesus? Maybe you look back at a time when you were excited about following Jesus, you walked closely with Him and you were seeing the results in the fruit of your life. Maybe you have become sluggish, lazy and feel out a shape spiritually and you need to fall in love with Jesus all over again. What do you do? You get up, you spend time in the word, you talk to Him, you sing praises to Him and you ask Him to fill you with His presence, but you don't give up. You set goals by looking at behaviors and thought processes in your life and you ask the Lord to help you meet those goals. "Lord, help me to love others the way you love without a critical spirit." "Lord, help me guard my tongue and only speak words that are pleasing to you." "Lord, help me to decrease so that you may increase." You throw off those things that you know will hinder your running towards Him. Throw off the negative attitude. Throw off the unforgiveness and anger. Set aside the people that are negative influences and run on the paths that encourage you to keep running towards Jesus. Maybe you have never even attempted to join the race. Maybe you have never been transformed by the power of Jesus. The first time I started running, people in my life started saying, "What are you doing? You look so good and seem to have so much energy." They noticed a difference. Maybe you have seen a difference in others, in the way they serve, in the way they love and in their attitude of constant joy and peace and you are wondering, "What have they done?" They have surrendered their lives to the forgiveness of Jesus and He has transformed them from the inside out. I never thought I would like running. It looked painful. I thought it was for those exercise nuts. I remember saying I wouldn't run unless someone was chasing me and then I ran. I tried it for myself and I loved it. Yes, I slowly got out of shape because I quit making it a priority in my day, but when I determined to run again, I remembered what I was missing and how great I felt. Tonight one of my boys said, "Mom, you seem to have more energy and you seem more alive. What's going on?" As happy as I was that he noticed and as honored as I was by his compliment, his earlier words of, "Mom, I don't know if you are getting wiser or if the older I get I am just more open to listen, but you share great wisdom with me and it makes so much sense." I want to be healthy and be able to walk up a flight of stairs without panting like my puppy, but more importantly, I want my children to see their mom pursuing Jesus with a tenacity and determination that never tires and never quits. I Timothy 4:8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Embracing the Fingerprints on the Fish Bowl

Image result for fingerprints on the fish bowl
Children grow up playing hide and seek, school and house and while I played all of these things as a child, I also played church. My brother was on the piano and I often had “a word from the Lord” for the dolls, stuffed animals and pretend congregations that filled the living room. When you grow up as a PK (preacher’s kid) you mimic what you see. I loved playing church. I loved picking out worship songs, greeting church members, praying with them, and teaching them the word of God. It came as no real shock when at the age of 15 I felt the Lord calling me into ministry. At that time, I wasn’t exactly sure how that would look but marrying a pastor was certainly part of my dream.
The life of pastors and politicians have been referred to as fish bowl lives because every move you make is under scrutiny and being examined with a microscope. As a child, I don’t remember living in a fish bowl. I am sure we did, but my parents did a good job shielding us for the criticism and the opinions of onlookers. I have extremely fond memories of growing up as a PK. We experienced baptisms in the bathtub, impromptu prayer meetings in the den, missionaries as guests and revivals where we witnessed the life changing power of Jesus Christ.  As an adult, I am now aware of the many, many fingerprints and the tapping that occurred on the fish bowl of my childhood but the memories are not negative.
At the age of 22 I met a man who was called into ministry and the Lord in his sovereignty joined our hearts and our visions in ministry and matrimony. I soon found myself the wife of a pastor, a stay at home mom to 4 boys, driving a mini-van and living the dream. And truly most days were just that, a dream come true, but the reality of the ministry life is that we are living in a fish bowl. Every action, every word, every purchase, every vacation, every part of your life is being watched as those inside the church and those outside the church press their noses to the glass to watch. Sometimes that fish bowl feels very cramped and I long to swim in the open ocean far away from the view of onlookers. This longing is not born out of a need to do anything that is hidden, for all that I do is seen by my Savior and it is him I live to please, but I have days that the critical eyes and the piercing words are too much to bare. I am sure that it happens in other areas of life but I have never told my doctor how to do his job. Why? Because I am not a doctor. I have never shared my opinion of flying with a pilot and I certainly don’t tell our accountant how to do our taxes. I have never had the opportunity to vote on the pay or vacation time of a lawyer and truthfully if he wants to buy a new car or wear shoes that aren’t polished that is up to him. In ministry, there are so many that take an interest in every movement that occurs in the fish bowl. They can swim better, hide better, breathe better, interact with the other fish better and yet they have never spent one day in the fish bowl or even underwater. If you are in ministry you know the exact fingerprints I am referring to. Now before I get accused of sounding bitter or angry in ministry let me change directions. Yes, there are those rare days when I want to escape the fish bowl, but the Lord has been molding and shaping my heart and teaching me how to “Embrace the fingerprints on the fish bowl.”
Embrace has been defined as holding closely as a sign of affection. It is the picture of enthusiastically and willingly clasping to your bosom that which you want to take to heart. When you embrace you accept wholeheartedly what is being offered. To embrace the fingerprints on the fish bowl is to welcome and accept the impressions of others, their mark on your life, their touch and even their peculiarities. In ministry, we are privileged to encounter many personalities and even more peculiarities. Embracing those differences is to welcome them and ask the Lord how He wants to use those people and their fingerprints or impressions on your life to make you more like Him. Our goal is to become more like Jesus each and every day.  Just as Paul said, “I want to know Christ, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his suffering, becoming like him in his death and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10-11 we too should desire to know Jesus in every aspect of His being. Sometimes the fingerprints are impressions left there by those who want to see how they can bless you and enrich your life while others are there to critic and condemn, but if received with the right heart those impressions can also be blessings. It is through those hard times that we learn how to love as Christ loved and He uses those trials of the heart to make us more like Himself.
All of mankind consists of broken people. That is why ministry is necessary. Without the brokenness caused by our sin, we would have no need for the redemption of a Savior. We minister to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We minister to proclaim His love and His message and didn’t He love the unlovable? Even me? I don’t press my nose against others fish bowls very often, rarely do I even peer into the glass, sometimes because of the lack of transparency but mostly because “my opinion of you is none of your business.” My “opinion” of you honestly doesn’t matter, but HIS opinion of you does. Since HE is the only one who matters, my one and only goal is to point you to Jesus. When you know Jesus, you know Truth. When you live according to the truth and live to please an audience of ONE, then it doesn’t matter who is peering in your bowl because HIS opinion is the only one that matters.
It has taken many years, but I have learned to embrace each unique and peculiar fingerprint. I have learned to trace the individual impression that each identifying mark leaves behind and ask the Lord, “What were you teaching me with this one? And how can I become more like you because of this one?” I have developed a heart of gratitude (most days) as I realize that each marking, unique to the individual, were all a part of my sanctification process. The more fingerprints, the more opportunities to grow and allow the Lord to purify my heart. Some days I would like to cry out, “Are you done yet?” but I know the answer before the question is fully formed.  “No, not yet.” And that will continue to be the answer until the Lord Jesus returns to call me home to Heaven.
I don’t know where you are today. Maybe you are in the ministry and weary of all the fingerprints, maybe you serve the Lord in another area and the criticism is too much to bare or maybe you aren’t involved in ministry, yet you feel like the fish bowl of your life has become an observation deck, take heart today and ask the Lord how He could use each fingerprint, each pressed nose and each on looking eye to show you more of Himself. Usually people stop looking in the fish bowl when the fish are belly up. If they are looking it means there is still something to see and your life can be a beautiful testimony of a life lived, molded and shaped to bring glory and honor to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
I Thessalonians 2:8 "So we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well."

Thursday, February 28, 2019

SEX - What's the big deal?

I heard a story about a small village where vicious crocodiles inhabited a nearby lake. The people of this village were terrified of the crocodiles and would not dare to speak of them. There were regular crocodile attacks causing severe injuries to the villagers. The crocodiles would approach the land and drag babies and children into the water. They would rip off limbs and leave women as widows and men as single dads. Daily the crocodiles claimed the lives of children, adults and destroyed families but no one wanted to talk about the crocodiles. A man visiting this village noticed the mass destruction and yelled out that “the crocodiles are killing and destroying your village.” The villagers silenced the man and said, “We don’t speak about the crocodiles.”
Just as the crocodiles were destroying this village so too is sex destroying our society. Sex is killing our babies, destroying marriages and taking lives daily. Why have we allowed this to happen? Sex is talked about in the movies we watch, the television shows that entertain us, the commercials, on Netflix, Hulu and You-tube, the books we read, our magazines, newspaper articles, music videos, songs, raps, billboards and advertisements, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Tik Tok, the actions of our friends, our parents, our teachers, our coaches, politicians, and even our celebrity heroes. Sex is talked about all day long in every situation but the church for the most part has remained silent on the subject for fear of offending people with the word “sex.” My oldest son took a stand for purity from the stage of a church and his words were shocking even though his message was truth and biblically sound. It ruffled a few feathers, but I would argue that it is time to ruffle feathers within our world. When millions of babies are being killed because parents didn’t count the cost before gratifying the cravings of their sinful nature, when adults are abandoning their spouses and children after they took a vow to be a family, when parents are teaching their children to be people of their word yet they lie, cheat and sleep around, when teachers, coaches and even some pastors call you to a code of ethics and a life of responsibility yet their very actions defy their teaching, when celebrities claim to be worthy of the title of role model yet the branches of their offspring outweigh the stability of their trunk and the spelling of their diseases are beyond their education it is TIME to ruffle some feathers by speaking out on the subject of sex.
Statistics tell us that students have had their first kiss by the age of 12. Only 13% of 20 year olds are still virgins. Men will have an average of 14.14 sexual partners in their lifetime and women will have an average of 7.12 sexual partners in their lifetime. In the year 2018 60% of marriages ended in divorce and 2 out of every 5 couples that walk through the doors of the church every Sunday end up in divorce court.
As a high school teacher, I have students that tell me, “Having sex before marriage is not wrong. It used to be wrong back in the Bible days but that doesn’t apply anymore.” This philosophy follows suit with our society’s actions. They believe this to be true because it falls in line with what they see. We tell our children and our teenagers, “Do as I say, not as I do,” when we know the reality is children mimic what they see. Watch your young toddler or child and you will see that they mimic phrases, expressions and the behaviors of those around them. We must set the standard before our children that we expect them to follow and that standard must be formed according to the truth of scripture. Too often we allow our culture and our circumstances to determine our standards instead of allowing the Word of God to be our standard and lining our cultural exposure and our convictions up with that standard.
If the rules, standards and convictions of your family are thought of as strange, REJOICE, you are probably doing something right. If you blend in, look like every other family, can compare notes or fall into one of the statistics categories then it is time to ask why?
We see so many who are having children out of wedlock, women aborting babies because “that” wasn’t the plan and children who are being torn between the homes of two parents because someone else looked more appealing or differences couldn’t be overcome. I recently heard a young person say, “I have 14 siblings on my dad’s side but they have 5 moms and I have 10 siblings on my mom’s side and they have 5 dads.” Think about that for just a moment and ask yourself the question, “When did we lose the sanctity of the marriage bed?” Hebrews 13:4 “Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”
Who is teaching our young people the truth about love, sex and relationships?  Do you want the cold, hard truth? WE ARE! We are allowing the world to speak louder than the Word. As our world desensitizes us to sexual sins, even we as believers have ceased to be shocked unless we hear it mentioned in church. It is less shocking to find out that a family member is having a baby out of wedlock than it is to hear a young believer address sexual sins from the pulpit. This is a heart breaking and a disgusting reality. Even within the church we find appalling statistics of youth who have engaged in sexual behaviors. Even those who claim the name of Christ try to see how far they can go without falling off the ledge.
My oldest son reminded me of an analogy that puts this into perspective. You are in need of transportation down a very steep mountain. These roads have no guardrails and the streets are very near the mountain’s edge. As you interview taxi drivers to see who you will entrust your dangerous route to you ask this question, “How close to the edge do you drive?” Driver one says, “I like to drive fast and as close to the edge as I can so I can have a good view of all the scenery.” Driver two says, “I drive pretty fast and try to keep it somewhere in the middle occasionally looking over the edge for a quick glance.” Driver three confesses, “I don’t drive real fast and I stay as close to the mountainside as I can but I assure you I will deliver you safely and the view of this majestic mountain will be worth it once you reach your destination.” Now tell me, which driver would you choose to take you to the bottom of the mountain? When the loss of your life is at stake, staying far away from the edge seems like the only reasonable option. The misuse of sex is just as deadly. Our society is dying. We lose lives to sexually transmitted diseases and abortions but we also experience the death of families, friendships and the ultimate joy that a life lived according to the Word of God can bring. So many exchange the pleasure of the moment for the heartache of a life lived outside of the will of God.
In a world where we have exchanged the truth of God for a lie and the devil is working at every turn to blind our eyes from the truth even those who claim to be believers in the Lord Jesus take scripture out of context to make it fit their situations. To say that you “know” Jesus and you are going to Heaven because you warm a section of the pew on Sunday yet you reject the truth of His word and live according to your own standards only confirms that you are deceived and the truth does not live within you. This is not said in hate or judgement but spoken out of the truth of scripture. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness” This verse of scripture is not meant to evoke fear in the heart of believers but instead it is meant as a heart examination. Do you claim His name by your words only or is your heart surrendered to Him? When our hearts truly belong to Him we will DO THE WILL OF OUR FATHER and His will is found in His word. Study His word and do what it says out of an overflow of the love you have for Him in your heart and life.
  So, what will we do with Sex? How can we make this gift a sacred act between one man and one woman within the bond of marriage? The first step is total and complete surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ. When He has total control of your life and you are seeking to obey and please Him in all things your life and convictions will line up with the truth of scripture. When this happens, you learn to die to selfish desires and say yes to holiness and live according to the standards of the Word of God. When our hearts are surrendered to Jesus we are convicted and sorrowful when we are tempted to sin or involved in sin. Second, if you claim the name of Jesus then set your standards according to His Word. Don’t see how close to the mountain’s edge you can get but seek how you can please your Savior and obey Him with a heart of love. Lastly, be bold and courageous in your teaching and in your rebuke. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ should speak loudly and stand clear on this topic. Don’t shy away from the truth. Don’t live in fear of being different but embrace the difference that comes from scripture and in love go to your brothers and sisters in Christ and show them the truth of scripture. Young people, write down your convictions according to scripture and ask 2 or 3 people you trust to hold you accountable and ask you regularly if you are living according to biblical convictions in your relationships.
If indeed crocodiles were invading our communities, killing children and destroying families we would be bold and courageous in warning others, in containing the danger and in seeing that the crocodiles were stopped. Let’s shut the mouths of this dangerous crocodile we call sex and keep it caged within the safety of marriage where it can be enjoyed and appreciated just the way God designed it to be.
I would be amiss if I didn’t end with grace. We are all sinners and we make mistakes. We are all in need of the forgiveness of our Savior. The gift of grace means that when we confess our sins to our Savior he forgives us and remembers our sins no longer. True repentance means we turn and go in the opposite direction. When we sin and we are convicted of that sin we ask for forgiveness and we walk in the opposite direction of our sin. To abuse grace is to continually commit the same sin over and over again asking for and expecting forgiveness with no desire to ever change that behavior. At this point you need to examine your heart and ask yourself if indeed you have ever surrendered your life to the Lord Jesus. I John 3:6 “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” We go on to read in I John 3:9 “Anyone born of God refuses to practice sin, because God’s seed abides in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” Scripture makes it clear that if we truly know Him and Jesus is truly our Savior, we will not purposefully choose sin and we will recognize within our spirit’s the conviction of that sin and desire to turn from it and seek forgiveness. Yes, my friend, there is forgiveness of sin and we are all in need of the amazing grace that only Jesus can provide but a life that is truly surrendered to Jesus will be the life that thankfully and humbly receives that grace and allows the spirit of God to change you from within so that your words, attitudes and actions are an overflow of the sweet spirit that dwells within the heart of every true believer.
When we decide to live a life that follows the one we claim to know, we will begin to slay those crocodiles one at a time and take back our babies, our children, our teenagers, our marriages and ultimately our villages in the name of Jesus Christ and claim purity in His name living victoriously according to His word.