Thursday, May 21, 2009

Practical Love

A few Saturdays ago our Sunday School had a Yard Sale as a fundraiser for our church’s upcoming Mission Trip to the Dominican Republic. We were determined to minister in the midst of it and WOW did God do some awesome things! This led us to the next adventure with the Lord the following week. We were given the “homework assignment” to purposely show practical love and sacrifice in our life some way during the week and then report the following Sunday.

God did some amazing things in my life personally that week:

  • He reminded me how He wants me to obey the best things He has purposed me to do and not just random noble things I could do for Him.

  • He showed me that I don’t have to have it all figured out before I obey, I just have to take the step of obedience and He will provide the rest!

  • The Lord is prepared to multiply what I sacrifice until the need I am sacrificing toward is met! Fishes and loaves anybody?

So we came together Sunday and shared in groups the ways we had sacrificed to express the love of Jesus that past week. The sound of people moving in harmony with God’s love was music to my soul. People shared the joys, fears, expectations they had experienced as they sought to share the practical love of Jesus.
But as each person tried to recount Holy Spirit inspired actions through mere human words, the Lord reminded me that He had already written the words through which each sacrifice could be explained: The gifts of the Spirit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22

I often think about these fruits as things I desire for the Holy Spirit to give and raise up in me. They are virtues that the Lord desires for me to allow the Holy Spirit to sculpt into my character as a Believer. But I have allowed my self-centeredness stop me right there, when there is so much more!
It is not a gift simply to be given to me so that I can proudly display it on the shelf of my pretty Christian life. I am the tree that God wants to cultivate to produce His fruit. He wants me to bear this fruit so that it can nourish the lives of others for the glory of His kingdom to be realized here on this earth!

Too many times, I am wrapped up in being a fruit eater and not a fruit producer.
Too many times I am wrapped up in what the Holy Spirit can give me, not what I can give through Him.

So when was the last time you nourished someone with the fruit of love that the Lord has produced in your life?

  • When was the last time someone tasted the sweetness of joy because of Christ in you?

  • Have you not just experienced peace but actually given it today?

  • Have you shown patience to one who needs it, deserved or not?

  • Have you offered the simplicity of kindness?

  • When did you last allow God’s goodness to be tangibly expressed through you?

  • Have you been the hands and feet of God’s faithfulness, rather than just the mouthpiece?

  • Have you embraced others with His gentleness?

  • Have you harnessed your energy for God and directed it toward doing His will?

“Against such things there is no law.”
That means there is FREEDOM in it.
The world will tell you that this type of giving is too high risk! But it is the selfishness and self-centered attitudes that will incarcerate you.
The walls of the prison are built with the blocks of apathy, piety, religious hypocrisy, complacency, comfort, and self preservation.
Drawing close to the Lord is the only way our lives can produce this life giving fruit. Remaining in that place of true intimacy is the only way we will ever have His heartbeat to give, to reach out, to love, to nourish with what He has so generously, so graciously given to us.

“Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop-on a light stand-shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

Practice. Love. Simple as that.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My Deliverer

Today I went to THE doctor.
You know, the one when you tell people that you went they they go "Ohhhh".
Yes I went to the doctor that also happens to be the one who delivered my children. My kids wondered when I picked them up from school why I was dressed up and it was not even a Sunday.
Sad, I know.

Questioned once again about my outfit choice for the day- as if they were shocked I actually DID something while they were at school-I figured I would spur conversation with my I told them that I saw the doctor that delivered them-the doctor that helped bring them into the world.
Not sure what reaction I was expecting-maybe the opportunity to tell them their birth story or something. But then came reality...
They were completely unimpressed.
Although I did get a polite, "Oh really?" from Jonathan which turned into short lived interest as he then began reciting the word "deliver" in different ways, as only an 8 year old comedian can do.

Realizing the conversation had been lost, I traveled into my own thoughts, taking with me the word "deliver", where-as often happens in this crazy brain of mine-a song was triggered: "My Deliverer" by Chris Tomlin.

As the song played on a round in my head, I began to think about what that word "deliver" really meant.

When I was talking to the kids about the doctor as their deliverer, the one who delivered them, I thought about how he brought them into the world. The focus was not on what he delivered them from, but what he delivered them into: fullness of life.

But then I realized that when I think about the Lord as my Deliverer, I have the opposite tendency. I tend to think about what He delivered me from, never fully focusing on what He has delivered me into.

I think as Believers, we often get stuck in thinking about what we have been delivered from and forget to actually live in the place that He has delivered us to.

This isn't a new problem.

Remember the grumblings of the Israelites after being delivered out of slavery in Egypt? I am sure at first they simply talked about how horrible it had been in the place God had brought them out of, but after dwelling on it too long, they were actually wishing they could go back! And no, the conditions of where they were may not have been wonderful, but come on! They were living under the favor and covering of the One True God! They were delayed from moving into a greater place of communion with and provision from the Lord, not because God hadn't made it available, but because they only had eyes to see what the Lord had delivered them from and not the place of new life and growth that He had moved them into.

"But it was because the Lord loved you...that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery...know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God , keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments."Deuteronomy 7:8-9

Praise God! He has delivered us from death! But that is only the beginning! What He has delivered us INTO is a fullness of life, an abundance of grace, an unfailing love, an unequalled power that can only come from the One True Deliverer.

What would happen if our lives were the fragrance of what Jesus Christ has delivered us into, rather than the stench of what He delivered us from?
What if we stopped considering ourselves first and foremost as former slaves, and actually saw ourselves as redeemed children of God, with full access to the priceless inheritance made available to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ! In His great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade..."(1 Peter 1:3-4)

We need to live and grow as sons and daughters of God rather than babies who wish they could go back to a place where, although predictable and familiar and seemingly safe, was a place where the touch of the Father could never be felt!
When a baby is delivered, it isn't born knowing how to function fully and completely in this place it has been delivered into, and neither are we as Believers.
We have to learn how to glean nourishment from God's Word, how to drink in His presence, how to walk in His ways, how to speak His wisdom.
But every step and stumble of the way is worth it all! What was left behind in delivery could never compare to what we have been so graciously delivered into.

"...the blood of Christ cleans up our whole lives inside and out. Through the Spirit, Christ offered himself as an unblemished sacrifice, freeing us from all those dead end efforts to make ourselves respectable, so that we can live all out for God!"(Hebrews 9:13-14 The Message)

Don't reduce your Deliverer to One who only brought you out of death...glorify Him as the One who has also delivered you into teh abundance of life in Him!
"...I have come that may have life and have it to the full." (John 10:10)

Monday, May 18, 2009

God's Left Hook

I can finally chew my Trident gum again...

Short of dental work, orthodontics, or some weird diet, I realize that statement may sound rather strange. So let me back up a week and a half, to a couple of days after I had bought a value pack of Trident and to the last time I had gum in my mouth, and I will fill you in on the story- since it HAS been so long since I have written, Kim.

Anyway, it was a normal Thursday night at home with the hubby still gone doing ministry work when I got a call to help out the church’s women’s softball team. They didn’t have enough players and were going to have to forfeit. I love to play, but as of late, my schedule had not allowed me to, so, at the last minute, I decided I would go. My kids were thrilled and as soon as we got there they headed off on their own adventures while I headed for the field…first base.
Softball is nothing new to me by any means. I have played since I was little and was in effect my daddy’s little boy. This is not to say I am outstanding at the game, but I do have solid fundamentals and a driving intensity. As for playing first, I am tall, limber, unafraid of a hard or crazily thrown ball and a pretty accurate catch, so it’s a good place for me to be. My second inning in the field seemed as though it would be like any other. I was checking the outs, the runners on base, aware of my own and other players positioning, as our pitcher threw the pitch that changed my night.
It wasn’t a line drive, it wasn’t even a fair ball. It was a high hit foul, easily catchable, by my calculations and past experience, by any first baseman. So I headed off in a dead sprint to make the easy out…

..…doing good, eye on ball, glove in air, other hand prepared to help trap ball…but then I had a thought….
”Where is the fence that I know is in this direction that I remember is broken and had a pole sticking out and oh my goodness! I remember when Jarrett didn’t pay attention to where the fence was and he ended up getting stitches right between the eyes, so I better glance, as I am in this sprint toward the ever looming fence, to see where it is so I don’t…BAM!(I slammed my fingers on the keyboard really hard when I typed that!)

Yes, BAM! TY-YOW! POP! POW! Any of that onomatopoeia would suffice to explain the split second it took for that not-so-softball to miss my glove and plummet into my chin/jaw.

It rather stunned me, I have to say. I remember thinking, “What just happened? DID that really just happen?” I had never moved my head from the direction of the ball, with my face and chin remaining up in the air to see the ball and make the catch. I had, however, slightly and quickly glanced to my left, and that was all it took for the ball to find a landing pad on my face rather than in my glove.

After impact, I took my glove off and thanks to Jesus, sat down calmly on the ground. I couldn’t really feel my jaw at the time so I reached up to try to see if my teeth were still there, and assess the damage. ALL my teeth were in place, praise the Lord!
But I was bleeding from a gash inside my mouth and had to spit out the blood over and over. This plus gum in the mouth is NOT a pleasant combo. So as everyone was huddled around, I spit out my small white piece of Trident gum. This elicited a rather overwhelming guttural response from onlookers who thought I had just spit out a tooth! Even through the pain, that was funny- and no- NOT intentional! (Thanks, Ashley, for being willing to pick it up had it actually been my tooth!)

And that my friends, was the last time I had gum in mouth until today.
Chew, chew, chew.

Oh since that night there have been many other “milestones”: not having to sleep with ice on my face, not drooling when I drink something, not having to sleep with cotton wedged in my gums, not having people stare at me like Jarrett took a swing, not having someone tell me I have something on my face, not having to cut all my food in little bitty pieces…and all these things came into my life because I had a split second thought that took my eye off of the ball.

I have thought about that moment so much over the past week and a half. What I did, what I should have done, what I could have done differently. You know, the sad thing is, the ball wasn’t even in play. It was a foul ball. I could have let it go, but I didn’t because I wanted to make the easy out. I chose to go after it, then I got distracted by what may or may not have been close enough by to cause a problem.

I all too often play out this same “game” scenario in my spiritual life. I go after good things, but not the best things, determined to make the easy play, then I get distracted. I take my eye off the ball. And the next thing you know…BAM! At least if I had been looking at the ball and missed it, I could have shielded myself from the impact. But I was looking at the distraction.

Matthew 7:13-14(The Message) says, “Don’t look for shortcuts to God…the way to life-to God!-is vigorous and requires total attention.”

I had taken a smidgen of my attention and placed it in the wrong place and the result was a painful wake up call.

There are so many distractions in my life, some of which are my welled intended pursuits and well thought out precautionary measures. Despite having a good basis in the fundamentals, I go after the wrong things, play it too safe, and or just don’t pay attention at all! The problem is simply this: I take my eye off of Jesus and His purposes for my life. The plays he asks me to be a part of are “vigorous”. The things of the Spirit I am to run after “require total attention”.

He reminds me in Isaiah 66:2 , “But there is something I’m looking for: a person simple and plain, reverently responsive to what I say.”

He simply wants my focus and my obedience.
Nothing good comes from entertaining deadly distractions.
LIFE comes from setting your heart and mind on Jesus.

Believe me, my chin and my gum deprived mouth know all about it.

“These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words to build a life on.”
Matthew 7:24

Father, give me the courage and strength to make YOU the center of my attention in a world that throws distractions at my face at every turn! Empower me to do what you require in Matthew 7:21- “serious obedience-doing the will of my Father.” I don’t want to be guilty of adding you to my life like some impressive decoration. I want to be obsessed with You and the things of Your Spirit so that the glory is Yours and Yours alone. Help me keep my eyes, my heart, my spirit, my life, my words, my everything focused on You! Amen.

“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.
To Him be the glory forever! Amen.”
Romans 11:36
Mother's Day with my black and blue chin!
Looked more like Father's day with my 5 o'clock shadow!