Tuesday, November 15, 2011

God's Pillar

Recently at church, we were singing the Gaither classic Because He Lives. We are a contemporary church, but some classics are just so uplifting! The second verse of that song goes,

"How sweet to hold a newborn baby, 
And feel the pride and joy he gives,
But greater still the calm assurance:
This child can face uncertain days because He lives."

Now, to be honest, I have had a hard time with how that verse really fits in to the bigger scheme of the song. It just seemed to stick out to me (I'm not questioning Bill Gaither's talent or the Holy Spirit leading him in writing this song!) This morning, however, God granted me a little perspective. A perspective that was sweet and humbling. A perspective of God's amazing love for us.

In Exodus 13, God gives Moses direction as to the consecration and celebration required in remembrance of the Passover. Then Moses describes where and why God is leading the Israelites a particular way (another example of God's care for their fragile spiritual state. see v. 17.) As the chapter closes, this is written:

He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night from before the people. (v.22)

Did you catch that? He was constantly before the people. They didn't have to question whether God was there; they didn't have to doubt whether God was leading them; they didn't have to worry about figuring their escape out on their own, all they had to do was follow. Wow!

Are you currently in a state of transition and are questioning where God is and what He wants you to do? I know I am. I yearn for more but I'm not sure what that more is. So, I sit and wait on God to reveal where He is at and where He wants me to be.

What is especially sweet to me about this passage is that God understood the people had been in darkness for over 400 years. He knew their faith was small, just starting to bud as they experienced God's greatness through the plagues He brought upon Egypt. He met them where they were and gave them the constant care that they needed in their infancy of faith.

This brings me back to the newborn baby of the song Because He lives. As I was meditating on Exodus, I began to think of the Israelites as a newborn baby or an infant who needs almost constant contact with his/her mother for security and safety. The baby depends on his momma to take care of him. He depends on his momma to protect him. He depends on her to comfort him when he is feeling insecure or scared. Remind you of the Israelites?

This relationship between parent and child is so precious to both the parent and the child. The parent feels the joy and pride of his/her new baby. The child has the calm assurance that her parent will care for her despite not knowing what is ahead.

The same can be said for God and the Israelites. God is so excited about His renewed relationship with Israel. He is doing everything He can (which is the best ever!) to show His love and care for His children. He is even going to physically walk them out of slavery into freedom! The Israelites on the other hand can have the calm assurance that God is there to watch over, protect, provide, and lead them despite the uncertain days coming. (Now we know that the relationship does not stay this idealistic - despite God's presence, the Israelites still have weakness of faith.)

You may be thinking, "That's really great that God did that for the Israelites. If I had that I would never stray. I would be the best Christian ever - always following God and depending on Him!"

Well, the good news is God has done that for you and me . . . in an ever better way! If you have believed in Jesus as your Savior and Lord, the Holy Spirit is God living IN you (I Cor. 3:16, 6:19)! ". . .[B]ecause the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." Rom. 5:5. He is your Helper (John 14:16), Provider of gifts (Rom. 12:6-8; I Cor. 12:8-11); Intercessor in prayer (Rom. 8:26); and your Seal of salvation and Deposit of future things to come (I Cor. 1:22). He is with you forever (John 14:16)!

So, just as God showed His love and care for the Israelites by displaying himself as a Pillar of cloud/fire during the exodus, God shows His love for you and me by depositing His Holy Spirit in us at salvation so we can walk in faith out of dark slavery into the freedom light. In any even greater way, He continues with us as we live out the rest of our days. And during those ensuing days, He meets us where we are with what we need through His Holy Spirit (a continual, everlasting Pillar)!

I now know I want to be that newborn baby in Because He Lives, curled up in the protective, caring, loving, providing, and leading arms of God, maintaining a calm assurance despite the uncertain future because His Spirit lives in me.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sturdy Faith

"Peter said to Him, 'Lord , if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.' And He said 'Come!' And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But, seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!' Immediately, Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him and said to him, 'You of little faith, why did you doubt?'"
Matthew 14:28-31

I read this passage this morning and something in my spirit said, "THIS IS ME!!" I want to follow Jesus out onto the water - I want to follow Him wherever He leads! Yet, so often and very recently, when I start down the path in the will of God, I start looking around like Peter; I forget about the power of God that got me started on the path and I start worrying about the strength I am going to need to figure out this path.

I start sinking . . . or maybe wandering for the initial calling/path on which God said, "Come!" I rely on my own provision, not God's. I have little faith, despite God's constant displays of faithfulness and extraordinary provision - Jesus had just turned 5 loaves and 2 fish into enough food to feed more than 5,000 people! AND Peter had seen Jesus do it! I have seen Jesus provide, praised Him for it, but then not relied on that powerful provision on the next path God called me.

Why can't I have faith, sturdy faith, that keeps me walking on the water . . . walking down the path . . . God has called me? Instead, I have little faith, like Peter, and I have doubts. I have all the great intentions in the world but can't seem to stay fixed.

This is where I have found myself recently. And honestly, until this morning, I prayed for another chance to follow God into something mighty and I promised that I was going to "do better" next time.

But that isn't what God wants of me. He doesn't want me to do more - He wants me to do less! Look at what Jesus did with Peter. First, He called Peter. We don't lead. God does. And God calls us to daring things - like walk on the water! Impossible things that only He is able to accomplish.

Second, when we lack faith, God is right there, ready to immediately reach out and take hold of us. Once Peter became frightened, he didn't sink down and start swimming on his own! NO! He called to Jesus, and immediately Jesus came to Peter to rescue him from his fear and doubt. Notice though, He didn't calm the wind until He and Peter got into the boat. Jesus didn't remove the source of Peter's fear; He stepped in and comforted Him through it. He wants to be our anchor even during the storms that will come against us while we are in His will.

God knows that following His calling will be hard. Satan will come against us. Our flesh will war against His Spirit in us. Yet, we have the comfort and strength of being held by Him through it all. We learn to depend more and more on Him through these times of faith-stretching.

Finally, look at what happens when they get back in the boat:

"And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, "You are certainly God's Son!'"
Matt. 14:33.

No matter what Peter's (or my) personal struggles in responding to or living out God's calling, God's faithful response and show of power resulted in praise and glory for Him, the only one deserving of it!

I can have sturdy faith when I follow God, keeping my eyes on Jesus. And when I start to look around in my own strength, I can trust that He will be there . . . sometimes gently taking my hand, sometimes grabbing me around the waist . . . reminding me of His calling and His power in my life.

I pray that He will have more and more opportunities to show His love, faithfulness, and provision to His children through my life, even if that means they come in my struggling to obey and rest in Him. Today, I can praise Him even more because of His faithfulness in Peter's life!

And that is where sturdy faith is . . . a faith that doesn't just sees with my eyes, but knows that through His power the impossible can be accomplished.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Distracted Devotion

I was challenged recently as a read an excerpt from Radical by David Platt. He commented that discipleship included a daily walk with new believers, including teaching him/her by sharing your quiet time with the new believer. Lead through co-experience. At first as I contemplated how neat that would be with a sister-in-Christ, I was all eager-beaver to find one of my "disciples" and start meeting the next morning! Then, I started thinking about reality. Share my time alone with God with another person, maybe one I don't even know that well?! That is MY time, my sacred time of quiet, coffee, God's Word, and my journal of how God and I talk each day.

My devotion time, as I call it, is early in the morning, before any one else is up . . . or that's the goal anyways! Sometimes I hear the patter of very early risers coming down the hall before I've really gotten into it. In these cases, I try to fix a quick breakfast, send him or her, or both, into another room to watch a movie, or for my 4 yr. old, set out a couple of books for her to read at the table. I make a pot of coffee, collect my Bible, journal, and favorite pen, and I sit at the head of the kitchen table - a place normally reserved for my husband at meal times - for easy access to the coffee pot. Although I would love a space all my own, the table serves the purpose with a nice wide surface to spread all my things out on and a hard surface to write my prayers, God's leadings, and my inmost desires.

I generally like routines, so I'll pray, read . . . journal as the Spirit leads . . . read again . . . pray for others and special requests on my heart. I LOVE journaling. I seem to take more in when I've written it down. Sometimes, however, I start feeling like the habit is becoming more of the focus than the conversation, so I sit in my husband's recliner or on the couch and just take my Bible into our conversation. It is in these times, that I focus more on listening to what He's saying than on my ability to take what He's revealed and write it.

I desire my devotion time each morning! Yet, I titled this post, "Distracted Devotion" because no matter what my intentions, there are always other things trying to interrupt my special time with the Lord. My children's needs, housework that got put off for another day, the computer, last minute homeschooling prep, fatigue, even my coveted morning phone call from my parents who live far from me. But sometimes the distraction isn't physical, but spiritual. Pure rebellion, pride I can do it for a day without a special word from my Lord, worry and doubt, discontentment.

But what I have learned over my years of developing a daily quiet time is that it is only by practicing a devotion time that those distractions do not make or break my day. My devotion time helps bring me back to the place where I focus more on what brings God glory for that day than the current pressing need. It gives me perspective. It allows me to exhibit more hope, patience, peace, joy, love, kindness, gentleness, and self-control with my husband, my children, my friends, the lady waiting on me at the grocery store, and the random people God brings into my path.

Distracted devotion becomes focused purpose for the day. And that is something God can use.

And it is something I can and am willing to share with others. So who wants to study tomorrow morning with me?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Conversation from FB - with Tommy Hicks : )

Going to post this again tonight. It just needs to be reinterated: "So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another." Rom. 14:19

Tommy: "Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh." 1 Peter 2:18. NT

Leslie: tommy, what exactly do you think is so outlandish about that verse? it was written in a time that slavery was legal and accepted socially. slaves had no rights and had to submit to their masters. slaves who were Christians were called (in this verse) to be respectful to their masters in the chance that they might show them Christ's love. instead of... See More trying to rebel against authority like many slaves did, they were asked to submit to it out of respect for God. do you think we should disregard authority?

Tommy:Are you suggesting that God endorsed (or endorses) slavery? Social or legal acceptance has nothing to do with it. This is man's verse. "Look slaves (who can't read), even your God said you should honor us. Now back to work or I'll beat you with an olive branch. Oh, and that's ok too because your God said we could hit you as long as we don't kill you." Controlling the masses by disguising a King's law with God's.

Leslie: i don't think God endorses (or even created) slavery. i think slavery is evil (and man-created) and i think God thinks it is evil too. BUT i also think man is evil by nature, God allows man to chose between evil and good, and thus, He allows slavery (and any other evil in the world).

in this verse, He is saying Christian slaves, even though man is evil and has instituted this evil system, you still have to chose good. and in the OT God doesn't condone physical force against slaves. He requires more of Jews - He holds Jewish slave owners responsible for killing their slaves (which no other culture did). in the NT, Ephesians 6 tells both slave and master to chose good because it is God they are trying to please not evil men. God is explicit that He will not favor the master over the slave when they stand before Him in heaven.

"5Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.... See More

9And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him."

Again, this is the worst possible place to have this discussion but....
That doesn't make sense. First of all, man was created in God's imaged. So, for man to be evil just by being man doesn't work. (Also, God created evil. He had to. He created the heavens and everything in it. But, I digress). Also, if slavery is wrong, why would God ... See Moreinstruct slaves to be good at it? He could just say, "Follow my law, but get away from this evil". The whole notion that God had rules for slave owners is fallible because slavery is evil. That's like God saying, "Don't steal. But if you do, here's a few rules you should keep in mind". My point is that a lot of "rules" in the Bible serve man not God. So, more to the point, man his put is little amendments in the scripture.
Seriously, let's start a blog!!!! (Note: this is the result of this request : )

Leslie: I'm all for the blog! Tell me where.
For thought: If God created evil, and man is created in God's image then why couldn't man be evil by being man?
Man isn't evil by just being man. He is evil b/c he sinned in the garden. God can't create evil - He is good. Good can't be evil.
God never said "Don't own slaves" so your comparison to stealing is ... See Morenot parallel.
So you think man wrote Scripture to benefit himself? This doesn't make any sense if God is who He says He is. God says that when people trust in Him, He changes them - from evil to holy, from selfish to selfless, from man-centered to God-centered. So, man could not have written Scripture for his own benefit, if for no other reason, than because it would have been against God's character/Spirit, which was supposed to live in them as believers.

Tommy: The Bible was composed several hundred years after the fact by people that never even met Jesus. That should be enough for you to have a some concern about all of the contents. You said it yourself: Man is evil. So, given what you know about man, wouldn't it seem a little likely that people added, or subtracted, part(s) of the book? You have to answer "yes". Anything else is giving too much Faith. Not to God, but to man. God didn't say "Don't own slaves" in the bible because it was probably deleted. Again, man is evil, right?
God had to have created evil. He created everything. If God didn't create it then who did? If your answer is anything other than "God" then God is
not all powerful.
Enough of this. I have to get back to work.
Kisses...... See More

Leslie: The Bible was written by men who had personally spoken with God - I know for the NT, and I believe the same is true for the OT. In fact, other than a few of the OT authors and John, all of these same men were willing to be martyred because of their faith - so it must have been real if they were willing to die for it!
I don't have to answer "yes" to your question because although men are born sinful, Jesus paid the penalty for our sin on the cross (the wages of sin is death), so He justified us, making us right with God. BUT not only did He die, He also rose so that we could experience righteousness here on earth as well. All the men who wrote the Bible either lived in that knowledge or by faith in what was to come. The later, God accredited their faith as righteousness. All the men who wrote the Bible shared this faith and thus this new righteousness (they lived by the Spirit of Christ, as believers say).
Even with/despite this righteousness of the believers, the Bible is completely true because God gave the words to the original authors (I'm NOT talking about all the scribes who copied it - but there was a VERY detailed process with this as well.) So God is the true Author; the godly men who penned it were just His tool to get the Word out.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Whitewashed Tombs

I'm going to rant a little today. I'm tired of people comfortable in traditional churches looking down upon and opposing those attempting to reach the lost and unchurched by means of contemporary worship and practical teaching, as if these two things are immoral.

Jesus was clear that rules and traditions of men kept the Pharisees, Saducees, and Scribes from inheriting the Kingdom of God. The spirit of the Law, not the letter, was God's heart. Jesus condemned the Jewish leaders for usurping His law with rules surrounding the Sabbath, prayer, relationships with our parents, divorce, swearing practices, tithes, and cleansing rituals. All of these rules led to false theology (good works [following the law] will save you) and burdened the people with more than they could bear. Instead of looking like the Messiah, people were told to look like the Jewish leaders, the "whitewashed tombs!" Yet, isn't this same Pharisaical spirit alive in the American church today? Don't we, perhaps inadvertently, require the lost world to come in line with what our churched members prefer rather than require our churched, supposedly saved, members to demonstrate Christ's sacrificial spirit?

Time and time again, the church has changed with culture. I think of the first pianos in churches. They were not welcomed because pianos were saloon instruments! Now, just try to take the piano out of a traditional church! This molding to the culture is not in itself a bad thing. I believe that Jesus worked within and without His culture to win the lost. Culture is amoral. By using amoral cultural norms, a church is not being blasphemous or even ignorant, it is being relevant so that it can reach people where they are at. Wasn't Jesus about meeting people where they were at? Paul explicitly endorsed this as well.

In I Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul talks about becoming all things to all men so that he might save some. In studying these verse, John MacArthur makes an enlightening point. Paul isn't saying that he is free to do whatever he wants so that people will come to know Christ; he is saying that he will give up all his individual freedom so that people will come to know Christ.* Paul will refrain from exercising his preferences so that other won't be distracted by him and will be uninhibited to be saved. Now which of these sounds like Jesus and which of these sounds like the Pharisees?

Now, I'm not saying that those who prefer traditional church are unsaved like the Pharisees (although some definitely are!); rather I say this that I might challenge them to consider their discouragement or opposition of anything "contemporary" within the church. Is their opposition based on any biblical principle or command? Most of the time it is not. Rather it is based on personal preference. And because of their personal preferences, because of their lack of sacrificial spirit, people all around their communities and even within their churches are dying and going to Hell.

Let me make this personal. We are planting a church right now in an area where what I have said is not popular. Traditional worship abounds. I don't think there is one other Baptist church in our Association that offers contemporary worship. It is also in an area in which only 23% of people attend church on any given Sunday. What are willing to sacrifice in order to get the other 77% in church?! I like traditional worship. I already miss singing in the choir and we have only been on the field 4 months. Yet, I am willing to sacrifice my preferences of having a blended service in order to reach the unchurched and dechurched. We are planting a multi-ethnic church. I prefer a type of music that will not speak to all ethnicities. I am willing to sacrifice that preference in order to reach a multi-ethic group of people. Jesus taught me that He is bigger than any one type, beat, or style of music! It is just music! As long as the lyrics of the song praise Jesus Christ and are true to Scripture, I can worship my King!!

Maybe those of us in the church need to heed Paul's advice and set aside our own freedoms (preferences) and do what it takes to meet the lost where they are so that they might be saved! Maybe if we started doing this, just maybe the American church would come alive, maybe just maybe our churches would start seeing record numbers of conversions again, maybe just maybe we would look a little more like Jesus.

* I think American believers in particular have a hard time with this concept because individual autonomy itself is worshipped in our country. We are indoctrinated at a very young age that we are free and can exercise that freedom unabashedly, no matter what. Our wants reign supreme in our decision making. This is directly contradictory to Christianity, however. So, many believers have a hard time truly getting this American philosophy out of their hearts and minds after salvation.

Monday, September 21, 2009

To the believer: Is it "good enough"?

In a world that is constantly vying for our time, attention, gifts, and resources, we have become accustomed to quickly discerning what we think is "good enough" for us, our family, our lives. As mothers we are inundated with choices about food, clothing, toys, activities, sports . . . the list could go on and on. But really what should we be spending our time investing in?

Recently I came across two verses that have challenged me about what I deem "good enough" for my time, energy, and resources.

Acts 17:17 - "So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place EVERY DAY (emphasis added) with those who happened to be present."

Rom. 1:16 - "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek."

The latter verse really made me stop: Am I ashamed of the Gospel? Or to ask the same thing another way, "is it 'good enough' for me to spend time, energy, and resources talking about?" I have to admit, if someone looked into my personal, daily deeds, they wouldn't answer this question in the positive. It is kinda like asking someone what they think is important. You can get a good glimpse at their answer by looking in their checkbook at what they spend money on. Under that same litmus test, you might say that I am not ashamed. I give freely of my money, time, and gifts to the church.

But the question that haunts me is, what about each day in my personal dealings . . . as I am in the marketplace (Acts 17:17)? Am I still not ashamed there? Is the gospel of Christ "good enough" for me to step out of my comfort zone and share it as I go about daily living, as I meet those who happen to be there?

It is! It is the power of God to salvation! It is not just "good enough;" it is the best thing out there! It brings life to the dead; it makes new the old; it frees the enslaved; it empowers the powerless; it strengthens the weak; it enlightens the darkness!

So, I will heed the voice of God. I will run my race with more determination. I will NOT be ashamed. I will reason in the church with the believers and I will reason in the marketplace everyday with whomever I meet. It is more than good enough for me - it is the most worthy thing of my time, attention, gifts, and resources.

Have you thought recently whether it is "good enough" for you?

post script
If you are wondering whether you are good enough for the gospel of Christ. In one respect, the answer is "no!" Now before you get offended or stop reading, none of us are. We have all sinned, which makes us less than equal to God (Rom. 3:23). But what is so great is that even though we are sinners, God loved us enough to make a way for us to spend eternity with Him and have an abundant life on earth until our death. He took the consequences of our sin, which was death, and died on the cross. Then He did something that we could not do. He rose from the grave (he defeated death!) and gave us the opportunity to live again.

Now, back to the question: "yes! you are good enough!" Jesus Christ did all this for everyone . . . even while they were in sin! He did it for you! He loves you that much! You don't have to be a certain type of person, of a certain family, etc. What you do have to be is repentant; meaning you have to understand you are a sinner (you do wrong sometimes) and you have to want to turn from that sin. Ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin and ask him to take complete control of your life. I promise, you will not regret it!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I want a "Do Over!"

How many of us want to start over? We might have this desire in life generally or in a specific situation. Sometimes I feel this way with my children. We start the day already having conflict and I just want to scream, "DO OVER!" When my daughter wakes up on the proverbial "wrong side", I have actually sent her back to bed and told her to wake up a second time in a much better mood (a tickle treatment while she was down usually helps this!). Or even this feeling arises with my husband, especially when an important conversation starts out with the wrong phrase, tone, or gesture. "DO OVER PLEASE!"

Unfortunately, I can't even count the number of times this has been my mantra in trying to reach those who do not know Jesus as Lord and Savior. Whether it is saying something too "churchy", not being compassionate enough in ministering to someone hurting, or having to address a topic with a new friend with a politically incorrect answer, there always seem to be too many times when I wish I would have done it "better" . . . better in my view at least. I wanted a "Do Over!"

You know what is so good about even these times though? God still can use them. God still can use me, even when I want to scream, "DO OVER!" and He can make something good and glorifying to His name come from the situation. That's my God though, always taking something that is far short of perfect or good and making it useful, giving it a purpose. He can continue to do this in my life circumstances because He has already done it in my heart.

God, through Jesus Christ, has taken my sinful heart and given me a new one. He has taken that spirit of the law within me and given me instead a spirit of grace. He has taken my works of the flesh, which really weren't that great, and given me His Spirit of righteousness. Do you understand how big that is?! I wasn't deserving of any of these gifts! Yet, God loved me so much that while I was living in those works of the flesh (sin), He died on the cross to pay the penalty of my sin and give me a new life. He gave me a "do over!"

I sure am thankful for "Do overs!"