Monday, January 21, 2013

The Abundant and Overflowing Life

Romans 6:19-22

19 Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness, leading to holiness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

We are all slaves to something (or someone).  None of us is living our own life.  Whatever controls us and gives us purpose is our master.  For some of us, it is trying to fit in, to be popular.  For others, it might be materialism, trying to gain as many and as beautiful possessions as possible, things that provide a certain status for us or allow us to be "one step" above everyone else.  For others, we try to keep up appearances; we are slaves to a certain body image that we try to maintain at all cost; some people are slaves to their jobs; some are slaves to substances and those substances control their every move and thought.  Satan loves for us to believe the lie that a life of sin is so much more fun and rewarding than living a life of righteousness.  I believed the lie for a long time.  I thought everything I did for sin, every choice I made to pursue sin was worth it, until Jesus shook my world.  He showed me that true life is living for Him.  If we are living for anyone or anything else, we are just existing, wasting time, just breathing day by day, trying to survive until the next one, just trying to get through the next 24 hours; or worse, we are chasing a dream that will one day be taken away from us.  We focus our efforts on getting the highest paying job, having the best looking body, the biggest house, the nice car, or whatever obsession/idol it is because we live under Satan's lie that those things will sustain us; we believe that they will fulfill us or grant us the security we desire.  What a miserable way to live!  Living in bondage under the control of something that will not last, something or someone other than Jesus, Who offers us abundant, free, and eternal life is not the way God intends for us to live.  It is not what He wants for us.  In Jeremiah, God says that He knows the plans He has for us, plans to prosper us, and not to harm us, plans to give us a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).  How many Christ followers are living a life that claims we believe that?  If He knows the plans He has for us and those plans will prosper us and not harm us and they will give us hope and a future, why are we trying to do things on our own?  Is it because we think we know better than God? Why are we trying to live apart from Him?  We run away from Him and then we get angry with God when we fall on our faces.  He does not want us to run from Him, but trust in Him, that His plans are good and right and will bring Him the glory He deserves.  Why are we trying to drive the car?  We are meant to be the passengers while Jesus leads us where He wants us to go and drops us off to "do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10).

God describes us, His people, as "God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10).  God created us.  He created every inch of us, every facet, every nuance, quirk, and characteristic.  He knows us better and more intimately than anyone on this earth, yet we try to chase everything and everyone other than Jesus.  David, in Psalm 139, perfectly describes our Savior's knowledge of us.  He says, "O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.  You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well" (v. 1-3, 13-14).  The Lover of our souls knows us so intimately and created us so deliberately and specifically, and He loves us!  He takes delight in us!  He made us perfectly to do the works He planned for us in advance to do.  He has equipped us to do whatever it is He is leading us to do, however He is leading us to act.  Then why don't we trust Him?  Why do we think our ways are better or that He doesn't know what He is doing?  How many times do we think, Lord, you can't be asking me to do that?  Or, Lord, You know I am not made for that; I know You are asking me to do this for You, but I think You have the wrong person.  I am too young, too poor, I can't speak well, I don't know enough, I don't have the means to accomplish the goal You are asking me to accomplish.  God does not ask us to do something for which He has not equipped us.  If He asks us to step out on faith, accomplish a certain task, or boldly act on something He is calling us to do, then we need to step.  We need to trust Him Who knows us so intimately and Who made us to do whatever it is He is asking us to do.  We cannot grow in righteousness and faith if we don't trust Him or try to live life on our terms, the way we want to.  When we disobey God's calling, whether by running away or ignoring it and choosing to do nothing, we miss out on the abundant life God has for us.  He wants to bless us; He wants to use us, but we have to trust Him, trust that His ways are right and good, and step out on faith. John 10:10 tells us that "the thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy.  I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full."  We can and will only experience abundant life through Jesus Christ, when we surrender to our choices and desires and allow Him to lead us.

So, what is God asking you to do?  How is God asking you to move or act?  Will you have the faith that He is capable of accomplishing the task through you?  Let Him use you--He longs to pour out blessings on you!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Disobedience in God's Eyes

In the book of Joshua, verse 1:9, God strengthens Joshua with an incredible promise.  He charges Joshua to "be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."  When I read that verse, it gives me an overwhelming sense of power and hope because I know where my God is, there is victory!  If you are familiar with the story of Joshua, then you know that Joshua was Moses's right hand man, his helper, his "aide" as he is described in verse 1 of the first chapter of Joshua.  When Moses dies and can no longer lead the Isralites across the Jordan River, God expects Joshua to step up and fill Moses's shoes.  Joshua could not see it at the time, but God had been preparing him to lead His people to "cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them--to the Israelites" (1:2).  As soon as Moses dies, God calls Joshua in his place to carry out the promises God had given the Israelites.  God reminds Joshua of the promises He made to Moses and reminds Joshua to "be strong and courageous." He then gives Joshua his first set of instructions.  Joshua's immediate response is obedience.  He doesn't think, he doesn't hesitate; he only obeys.  He does not run to consult his friends, co-workers, bosses, or anyone else for advice on whether or not he should obey God.  He knows his God--he knows His voice, His leading, and His character.  Because of that, his only response is to obey.

Joshua obeys and God leads him step by step across the Jordan and into Jericho.  God seems to only give Joshua instructions for each next step of the journey.  Joshua is aware of the big picture in the sense that he knows God's promises for the Israelites, but he does not know how God will execute everything to arrive at that destination.  He just trusts and obeys each individual step.  Then, one day Joshua sends spies into Ai to check out the land.  His spies advise him to only send a few troops to overtake the land.  Joshua follows their advice, and the people of Ai chase down the Israelites and defeat them.  When Joshua discovers that his men have been beat, he tears off his clothes and falls face down on the ground, crying out to God, questioning how God could lead them to this land and then allow them to be defeated.  God provides a simple and direct answer to Joshua, "Israel has sinned" (v. 7:11).  God tells Joshua that they will not be able to stand up against any enemy until the sin has been destroyed.

Joshua learns that one man from the tribe of Judah, Achan, had stolen items that were devoted to God.  When Joshua discovers Achan to be the guilty party, Achan is killed because of his sin.  God is serious about our sin.  He has big plans for us, victorious plans, but we cannot reach those plans on our own--we must trust Him.  If we try to go our own way, we will fail.  We are not victorious on our own.  God is our victory and if sin is present in our lives, we cannot defeat our enemies.  We have to confess our sin, expose it to the light, repent, and continue to chase after God.

In the scenario of Joshua chapter 7, Achan dies because of his sin.  We cannot stand in the presence of a holy God with sin present in our lives.  We must repent of it.  If we have sin in our life, something else will die.  The only choices we have are to kill the sin or allow death to enter another area of our lives.  If there is sin in my life, then death may come in the form of a relationship, losing a career or job, money, possessions, or something else.  We cannot allow sin to have any room in us if we want to be victorious in Jesus.

Confessing our sins to God may be difficult because we don't like to fail.  I know I hate admitting defeat to Satan.  I hate to admit that he had me for a while.  But even the feeling of admitting defeat pales in comparison to the cleansing that comes through Jesus once I confess my sin to Him and allow Him to wash me clean.  In Psalm 51:10, the psalmist cries out to God, "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me."  I don't know how many times a day, week, or month I need to pray that prayer, but I pray it as many as necessary because, for me, I would rather live in victory with my Savior than to succumb to Satan's vices and live in fear or agony.  1 John 1:9 tells us that "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."  That's all it takes--confession and repentence, then we're walking pretty again.  Just a pause in my day to tell my Creator, Who already knows, that I have sinned and ask Him to cleanse me and continue to purge sin out of my life.  James also encourages us to "confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (5:16).  That was the hardest for me to grasp--confessing my sins to my husband so he can pray for me.  What??  Satan used to tell me If your husband knows the sin in your life, he will not want you any more.  He won't want to be married to you.  That is a lie straight from the author of lies.  God's Word is true.  My husband is actually happy when I confess my sins to him, and vice versa, because we love to pray for one another.  My sin doesn't cause any feelings to change in him toward me because he confesses his sin to me, too.  He has sin, we all do, so he understands, not condemns.  That's how Jesus is.  He is our high priest Who "is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness" (Hebrews 5:2).  Jesus was fully man when He walked the earth, so He was faced with temptation.  He knows every feeling and every temptation we experience because He experienced it, too, but "was without sin" (Heb. 4:15).  I can approach Him any time with my sin because He knows, cares, and wants to cleanse me from it so that I can live in victory!

Friday, January 4, 2013

My Response to My Exercise Fast

"I have never heard anyone fast from exercise before" was my friend's reaction when I told her that's what I was doing.  I responded by saying something like "well, when it becomes an idol and I have allowed it to take over my life and push Jesus to the side, I think a fast is necessary."

I knew I had insecurities with my body image and a fear of getting fat; I knew it for a long time.  It was only recently that I summoned the courage to face it head-on and allow God to take care of the rest.  It was time for me to surrender that area of my life to Him and trust Him with the consequences.  I thought I had to exercise an hour a day (minimum) to maintain my body weight and still fit in my clothes.  I thought if I didn't do that, then I would become overweight or obese.  So, exercise consumed my life.  I always thought about exercise; it was always hanging over my head, and if I didn't get to exercise, I generally took out my frustrations on my husband, which affected my daughter, too, because my actions, attitudes, and speech don't only affect the person to whom I am speaking in my household, but my entire household.  I was finally tired of it.  I was tired of feeling defeated in this area.  I was tired of allowing Satan's fingers to have a secure grip around my body image; he was winning and I despise being defeated by Satan because God has given me all the weapons I need for victory and I wasn't using them in the area of exercise.  I was hanging on to exercise because I thought I could control it best if it was in my hands instead of in the hands of my Creator.  I thought that if I surrendered it to God, then He could not lead me to ways to stay healthy without having to beat myself up on the treadmill every day.  Boy, was I wrong!  I had been listening to Satan's lies about exercise and body image so long, I couldn't even hear God when He was trying to speak the truth.

Surrendering my "exercise time" has been one of the best moves I have made in a long time.  This is not for everyone, I am sure, but for me, giving that area over to God has completely turned me around and fixed my eyes where they need to be, on my loving Creator, rather than on His creation, my own body and a number on the scale.  When my eyes were fixed on those idols, I was not seeking opportunities to help and serve others, nor was I ready when God put them in front of me.

Okay, so here is what God taught me through my exercise fast:

  • Trust Him.  "Seek first His kingdom, and all these things will be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33).  When I surrender EVERY area of my life and concentrate on seeking Him before I seek anything else--house, body image, happiness, etc., then He provides everything I need.  He wants to provide for me in the best ways; I just have to allow Him to by giving Him complete control.
  • I didn't really fast from exercise.  I thought I was fasting from exercise, but I really only fasted from the treadmill and a block of time set that was devoted to it.  God gave me a new perspective and taught me that exercise comes in different forms other than traditional ways and that I can include my family in exercise and have fun at the same time.  Some ways I realized I was getting exercise have been dancing in the living room, kicking beach balls and soccer balls together outside, playing frisbee, playing running games with Nora-Kate, playing outside, doing short segments of exercise (I discovered that Nora-Kate really loves learning activities like jumping jacks, push ups, and fun cardio moves such as marching and jumping), taking walks outside, and basically anything else that releases energy.  The key is just to get up and MOVE during the day.  
  • Don't hold back anything from God.  Even when I am scared to let something go and give it up to Him, it really is best if I do.  Surrendering areas of my life over to Him allows me to completely trust in Him and I carry around an attitude of gratitude, positivity, and pure joy.  I find that I smile more, laugh more, and just enjoy the people and blessings God has placed in my life. I enjoy spending time with family and friends because I am not constantly thinking about when I will be able to exercise--I am less stressed!
I have enjoyed this recent fast from exercise.  God never lets me down and always provides in ways I never think or imagine.  I love walking with Him daily and learning how to trust Him more and more. :)