Tuesday, June 28, 2016

What Do You Expect?

This morning, I'd like to take you on a brief journey and show you some of the things that happen inside this crazy brain of mine.  Don't be afraid.  I'll hold your hand and guide you through.  I know it's a mess, and some of the things you'll encounter will be unrecognizable, but it's okay.  I'm used to it, so I'll get you through the maze.

For the past week or so, I've been meditating on expectations.  If you've followed my writings for any length of time, you know that the topic of expectations appears frequently, and the reason for that is because it's something I struggle with.  You see, I have this bad habit of expecting God to work certain ways or do certain things in my life, but when He doesn't come through in the way I think He should, I get angry and disappointed.  So, a while back, I came to the conclusion that expectations are bad and tried to convince myself (and you) that we shouldn't set up any expectations concerning God.  That way, we can't be disappointed.

It sounded good at the time.  In fact, it even sounded Biblical, but I'm afraid I must apologize to you, for the Lord has made it clear to me now that having expectations is not the problem.  It's how we deal with our expectations.  It all began many days ago when something I read (I can't remember what now) brought about a question in my mind:  What is the difference between asking in faith with nothing wavering (James 1:6) and having expectations?  Don't they both involve asking God for something and then believing (or expecting) Him to give it?  Immediately, I was confused, but of course, my poor little brain couldn't stop there.  It had to continue the thought process and pose another question:  How are expectations different from hope?  After all, the biblical definition of hope is "quiet, confident expectation," and the Bible tells us repeatedly to hope in God.  Is anyone else getting a headache?

After much prayer and meditation, I posed the question to Jason in hopes that he could further enlighten me. His opinion is that there is no difference between expectations, asking in faith, and hope.  They are all one in the same and, therefore, carry the same message.  The problem we often have with expectations is not that we expect but rather that we get mad when those expectations aren't met exactly to our specifications.  Jason's thoughts on the matter led to many other questions on my part (some of which I will discuss in the upcoming days), but I truly believe that in this matter, he was right.  The reason I think that is because the Lord confirmed it during the preaching on Sunday morning.  (Did I mention we had this discussion on the way to church?  Coincidence?  I think not!)

The preacher's message was about the prodigal son, and somehow, in the midst of that sermon, God spoke to me about my quandary.  The prodigal's father expected his son to return.  He was waiting for him at the gate. He made sure the calf was fat and ready for the barbecue.  No doubt in my mind, he prayed for God to send his son home again and expected God to answer his prayer in just that way.  Fortunately, for the father, God did grant him his request, but what if he hadn't?  What if the son had never returned?  Would it have been wrong for the father to have waited all that time, expecting God to answer in the affirmative?  No, as the pastor reminded us on Sunday, "Waiting time is not wasted time."  However, suppose God had not honored the father's request because He, in His great wisdom, wanted to give the father something better.  What if the father had grown angry and rebellious toward God because He didn't meet his expectations?  Then, we'd have a problem, right?

So, you see, there's nothing wrong with having expectations, but we have to be careful in how we respond to God's answer to our expectations.  Remember, "no" is an answer as is "wait."  And sometimes, even when God says "yes," He still doesn't work things out the way we wanted.  The key is to have expectations (ask in faith; hope) but also to expect that God will be God.  He is just and holy, and He knows the beginning from the end.  He will always give us what is best even if it's not what we want.

Now, if your brain works like mine (and I hope, for your sake, that it doesn't), you may be wondering, So how can I ask in faith if I'm not sure God will grant me my request?  Never fear!  We're going to discuss that one on Thursday, Lord willing.

For in thee, O Lord, do I hope: thou wilt hear, O Lord my God. - Psalm 38:15

Monday, June 27, 2016

I'm Not Sure I Can Do This!

Even though Jason and I weren't able to go anywhere for our anniversary vacation, we had a great time during our "staycation."  We chilled out and caught up on some rest.  We visited some historical sights in the area.  We did some window shopping and some actual shopping at the Goodwill Pound Store (my favorite place!).  And, of course, we did some hiking.

On Saturday, we did a familiar hike that was fun and almost relaxing.  The trail is mostly broad and flat, allowing us to stroll along hand in hand while Mitch raced up ahead, chasing squirrels and digging holes.  On Monday, however, we decided to do a hike that I had never done.  Jason had done it with a friend many years ago.  In fact, he and his friend had done the entire trail which is quite long and rated "Very Strenuous."  We were planning to enter the trail about halfway through and do the half that is not as difficult.  According to Jason, the trail wasn't bad at all, mostly an old logging road like what we're used to.  Evidently, his memory is getting as foggy as my own, for the portion of the trail we hiked was VERY strenuous.

We've done tougher hikes but not in a very long time.  The longest hike we've done in a while is the seven-mile familiar trail I mentioned earlier.  Seven miles of flat trail is not difficult at all.  Nine miles of ascending and descending a mountain is killer!  That's what we did on Monday, and I quickly realized that I was not in good enough shape to tackle that kind of hike.  Not yet anyway.

We made it--well, we mostly made it.  We didn't go all the way to the waterfall because it involved descending many more switchbacks which we would then have to climb back up, so when we reached the river, we decided it looked like a beautiful spot to rest a moment before beginning the climb up the mountain.  That's when I struggled.  It was horrible!  I climbed ten steps then had to stop and catch my breath.  Ten more steps.  Another minute of rest.  I remember praying on several occasions, "Lord, please give me the strength to climb this mountain.  I really don't think I can do this."  I wasn't kidding, nor was I exaggerating.  I wasn't sure my body was going to have the strength, energy, and stamina to make it up that mountain.

Perhaps you know exactly what I'm talking about.  You may not be climbing a literal mountain, but maybe you feel like you're fighting an uphill battle.  You're tired.  You're weary.  Your strength is just about gone, and you find yourself whispering, "Lord, please give me the strength to climb this mountain.  I really don't think I can do this."  You're not kidding or exaggerating either.  You're serious.  Dead serious!  You feel like it's too much effort to take another step.  I get it.  I've been there both physically and spiritually, and it's not a pleasant place to be.  But may I share with you the end of the story from Monday in hopes that it will encourage you and give you hope for your situation?

The entire trip up the mountain was a struggle, but with the Lord's help, I pressed on.  My legs ached, and my heart pounded, but praise the Lord, I made it to the top!  I crashed that night and could barely move for the next few days, but I made it.  (Why, oh why, do I do that to myself?)

On the positive side, I feel good about conquering a new hike and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.  Jason and I have a new memory to share and laugh about at a later time.  And I have another blessing to write in my book of remembrance:  God got me through.  He was the One who kept me going.  It was His strength that enabled me to press on.  I have no doubt that there, in the midst of the woods on the side of the mountain, God heard and answered my prayer for deliverance.  And He will hear and answer yours too.

The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments. - Habakkuk 3:19

Friday, June 17, 2016

I Can't Wait!

For the past ten days, I've been on a strict detox diet.  No sugar.  No caffeine.  No gluten.  No dairy.  Basically, none of the four major food groups (at least in my book).  And when I say strict, I mean it's an all or nothing thing.  The purpose of this process is to rid the body of unwanted toxins and then to add things slowly back into the diet one by one to assess any potential allergies that can cause a number of symptoms in the body including digestive issues, headaches, sinus troubles, body aches, mind fog and much more.  If you stay faithful to the plan, after ten days all of these substances and their side effects have cleared the body, making you aware of how you should feel.  Then, when you add them back in, you can monitor any changes.  Do you feel better or worse?  Have any issues resurfaced?  It's a good system, but let me tell you, it isn't easy (especially when a kind friend from church brings you homemade cookies that break all the rules of the detox).

I can honestly say that one of the things that has kept me going and faithful is the anticipation of what I could feel like without things blocking up my system.  I've been dreaming about the "new me," and it's a glorious picture.  Though the process has been difficult, I know that the results will be worth it, so I've kept my mind on the results rather than on how much I dread the process.  And I'm happy to say that I've made it through the detox period without cheating once!

Another thing that helped me through was looking forward to enjoying my favorite foods again once I could add them back into my diet.  We tend to appreciate and savor things more when we haven't had them in a while, and trust me, ten days feels like a while!  But I know it's worth it.  The results will be worth all the times I wanted to quit.  They will be worth the tears and heartaches.  They will be worth the effort.  And as long as I keep my eyes on the goal, I think I'm going to be just fine.

Life is the same way.  As the old hymn goes, "This world is not my home, I'm just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue."  Living life can sometimes feel like my detox diet.  It's hard.  It's frustrating.  It makes us want to cry, quit and even swear (though I hope none of us give in to that temptation).  My point is, the journey is rough, and if we lose sight of our ultimate goal, we may not be able to find the strength to go on.

On the other side of this detox, I have the hope of better health--not perfect health--but better.  Think about what we have to look forward to on the other side of this life.  Glorified bodies.  Illuminated minds.  Mansions.  Streets of gold.  No more pain or death or crying.  Eternity.  And most of all, Jesus!  It's all there waiting for us, and we can have it just as soon as we're finished running our race.  If we keep that goal in view, maybe the days here on earth won't seem so long and trying.  So, feel free to keep your head in the clouds because that's where we're headed (if you know Jesus as your Savior).  Allow the anticipation of Heaven and all that awaits us in eternity to put a spring in your step and a smile on your face.  Focus on hope!

Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless. - II Peter 3:12-14

*Special note:  If you have not accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior, you have nothing to look forward to, for your future is a horror beyond explanation.  Jesus is coming soon to take God's children to Heaven, and if you're not one of them, you will be left behind, doomed to spend eternity in the Lake of Fire.  Please, don't wait another day to accept Christ as Lord and Savior.  He loves you.  He died for you.  He wants to spend eternity with you.  Don't delay, for time is short.  If you need help, please contact me.  I would be thrilled to introduce you to my Savior, Lord and Friend.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Learning Through Suffering

Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; - Hebrews 5:8

The above verse fascinates me.  Hebrews 5 talks about how God established Jesus as our High Priest--the one who would offer the final and ultimate sacrifice for sin.  The entire passage is a blessing to read and a beautiful reminder of just how precious our Lord is, but when I was reading through it yesterday, verse 8 jumped off the page and nearly slapped me across the face (proof that words can hurt, hehehe!).

The verse tells us that Jesus learned obedience through suffering.  We know that he suffered while on this earth, and not just the suffering of the cross.  He was ridiculed all His life.  He was mocked and disbelieved.  He was forsaken, even by His own Father.  He endured fasting and temptation on more than one occasion.  Yes, He was definitely familiar with suffering.

What fascinates me the most is the fact that He learned obedience.  I mean, we're talking about the Son of God--literally God Himself.  Wasn't He already obedient?  After all, He wrote the words "Children, obey your parents," so we know that He wouldn't instruct us to live one way while He lived another.  Plus, to disobey would be a sin, right?  Is God--even in human form--capable of sinning?  (See Hebrews 4:15)  Besides that, how is it possible for the Son of God to learn anything?  He's omniscient, which means all-knowing.  He already knows everything, so how could He learn something new?  (See Luke 2:52)

That single verse presents a long list of questions in my mind, but it also serves as a reminder to me that suffering has a purpose.  We are to be like Christ, so if He learned obedience through suffering, shouldn't we do the same?  The purpose of our trials is not to make us bitter; it is to make us better.  God often uses the struggles of life to guide us where we need to go and make us more open to His will and direction.  It's not to hurt us, confuse us or exhaust us, though I know it may sometimes feel that way.  No, even in our darkest moments, God is still working all things for our good.

I'm sure that, to many, the crucifixion of Christ seemed like a cruel and dark thing.  What kind of God would sacrifice His own Son?  What kind of man would endure such torment when He had the power to save Himself?  Yes, I'm certain that there was much confusion and disappointment that day, but through it all, God had a plan.  Jesus was obedient unto death, and His obedience gave us life.  At the time, it didn't make sense, but looking back, we can see how the intricate pieces of God's plan fit together.

In our lives, we don't have the luxury of looking back because we're living them right now.  We can see a few broken pieces but don't have a clue how they fit together.  That's okay because we don't need to see; we need to trust.  Understanding God's character and love for us, we can trust that our suffering has a purpose and that purpose is for our good.  Rainstorms bring about rainbows.  Suffering brings about obedience.  And obedience brings about a reward.  Hang in there, dear one, God is working in your trial.  Trust Him.  Lean on Him.  And be obedient to His will.  You won't regret it.  Jesus doesn't!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Are You a Believer?

Over the weekend, Jason and I watched a Christian movie.  Overall, it was a cute movie, but let me tell you this, the "Christian" aspect of it needed a lot of help.  There were several little things that bothered me, but there were also a couple of huge spiritual issues that upset both my husband and me.  To explain, let me give you a brief summary of the plot of the movie.

Tired of being alone and frustrated by the many disastrous dates she's been on, a young woman decides to try out a Christian online dating site despite the fact that she is not a Christian herself.  She meets a wonderful guy and soon finds herself lying to him, his friends and family, all in an attempt to keep her unbelief a secret so that she won't lose this guy of her dreams.  When her secret is revealed, the young man breaks off the relationship and goes back to his former life.  The girl tries to do the same but realizes that the more she learns about God and His ways, the more she seeks Him.

My first of the big problems is that the guy, upon finding out about her deception, pushes her away, promising to pray for her.  While I certainly understand his not wanting to stay in a relationship with her, he had the perfect opportunity to be a witness to her, and he passed it by.  After all, she had been studying the Bible, attending church and Bible study, and much more to keep up her ruse.  She admitted to being drawn to something but simply didn't know the way.  Right there, she opened the door for him to show her the way, but instead, he left her to figure it out for herself.  That part really bothered me.

Another issue I had with the movie was with the girl's coworker whom she had known for many years.  Throughout the movie, you see the girl confiding to her coworker about her deceitful plan to meet a guy.  She tells her everything.  Toward the end of the movie, we find out that the coworker is a believer.  The girl didn't believe it and questioned the coworker about wearing a cross or some mark to let people know that she was a Christian.  The coworker only replied, "That's not my style."  Consider me irate!

The fact of the matter is that if this coworker worked with this woman for years, and the woman still had no idea that she was a believer, then the coworker was a sorry excuse for a Christian.  A Christian doesn't have to wear a cross necklace or spout Bible verses 24/7, but a true Christian should stand out.  There should be something different.  Obviously, this coworker never witnessed to the main character, not even when she knew what the girl was up to with the Christian dating site.  Again, there was an open door to share the love of Christ, but instead, the coworker chose to stay true to her "style."  Grrrr!

My friend, are you a believer in Christ?  I pray that you are, but I also pray that you behave like one.  If we have to go around telling people that we're saved, we're obviously not doing a very good job living it.  Christians act like Christ, and the Bible gives us a clear record of how He behaved and spent His time.  We are to follow His example, and when we do, it won't come as a surprise to anyone that we're a child of God.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. - Matthew 5:16