Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Inquiring Minds....

It is the week of my 50th birthday. Encountering certain milestones tends to make one a little more introspective. I am coming upon this one with a certain measure of uncertainty - where do I go with the  rest of my life?

As I look back over the years, there are many moments, decisions, and choices made that I am not proud of or happy with. Without a doubt, those are times in my life where I did not "inquire of the Lord." Over the past couple of weeks studying the lives of David and King Saul, the times they did and did not inquire of the Lord stand in stark contast. The difference between having a listening spirit and a hardened heart is evident.

Certainly, I do not want to end my life like Saul. All of his work, achievements, accomplishments meant nothing because he did not have a right relationship with God. Everything he worked for was snatched away and handed to antoher because he was disobedient.

David was not perfect by a long shot. He did not always remember to seek God in every decision and he made some bad ones. Even knowing this, God chose him as Saul's successor because he was a man after His own heart. How does that work? David was a polygamist, he committed adultery and murder. He was a terrible father. Ultimately, I think it comes back to the state of his heart. His was sinful and "deceitful above all else" just as ours are and Saul's was. But David knew that God was his refuge, he was repentant when confronted or convicted of his sin. His desire was to have an intimate relationship with God above all else.

In spite of his shortcomings, David left an eternal legacy. He had an earthly dynasty that reigned in Israel for many decades. It was from his line that the Messiah would come and establish his kingdom forever. Redemption...

David is a beautiful model of redemption. With all the wrong he did in his life, he sought the Lord's forgiveness and it was given. Not only that, he was used mightily of God in establishing the earthly kingdom of Israel. It gives me hope to think that the poor decisions in my own life can be redeemed and my life will leave an eternal legacy, as well. Perhaps not like David's - but eternal none the less.

So, as I move into the next decade of my life, I plan to inquire more of the Lord and to wait on His answers and guidance. Not only an inquiring mind but an inquiring heart as well.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Get the Weed Eater!

Yesterday I "came clean" about my closet (wish my closet came clean) and confessed that I opted for working in my yard. My entry today has a similar message from a little different perspective.

Sometimes, I feel like my front yard flower bed is the bane of my existence. No place else in my yard can grow weeds like this particular patch of ground can. It also grows oak trees. Thousands of them. You think I am exaggerating? Please - come to my house and I will let you help me pull them up. The thing is...If we don't stay on top of them, they take over the entire area. They are relentless.

Once again, this is such an analogy to our spiritual lives. We let one little thought or action take hold without dealing with it, and the next thing you know it has multiplied, dropped seeds and put down roots until it takes over your heart and mind. It is a continual battle to stay on top of these spiritual weeds.

I believe a few gardening tips are in order:

1. Do not make your mind a weed-friendly zone.
In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13), Jesus talked about the different kinds of soil that make our hearts receptive to the Word of God. The same is true in reverse. We can open our minds to things we should not see or hear, tolerate attitudes that we should not have, and cause our hearts to become fertile soil for the seeds of sin. 1 Peter 4:1-2 tells us that we are to arm ourselves with the same mind as Christ in order to avoid falling to sin.  "Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God." We only develop this mind by spending time with Him and with His Word.

2. You have to weed on a regular basis.
Just like any garden we tend, we have to get rid of our spiritual weeds on a regular basis. All through scripture we see the giants of the faith spending time in prayer daily. The gospels tell us that Jesus went out to pray in the morning "as was His habit to do". 1 John 1:9 gives us the promise that if we "confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness." If we are allowing the Holy Spirit to have reign in our hearts, He will alert us at the first sign of any weeds. It is up to us to pull them (confess them) and give them to the Master Gardener.

3. You have to get at the root.
Any time you are pulling weeds, you have to pull them up root and all. If you don't, the weed grows right back. If there is a recurring problem that you just can't seem to get over, maybe you are just lopping of the top of the weed and not getting down to the root cause of why it is there. Hebrews 12:14-15 says "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled". Any sin is bitter and when we let it take root it will surely cause trouble. The scripture tells us that this does not just defile us. It defiles MANY. We can't use the excuse that we are only hurting ourselves. That is a lie of the enemy. Sometimes the root is deep and digging it out is painful, but it is the only solution to getting rid of the weeds altogether.

So, time to do some spiritual weed eating! Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal and "weeds" that you may need to get rid of. Ask Him to help you dig out the roots for those tough ones that just don't want to let go and then fill you mind with things that make it receptive to God's Word, not Satan's lies.

Bok Tower Gardens
Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Closet Confessions

Every morning when I make my bed I take the pillows and store them in my closet. This morning when I opened the closet door, my heart sank a bit. I am not a fanatical housekeeper, but I do like things orderly around me. I can honestly say that most of my house is this way....except for the closet. Shoes all over the floor in spite of the beautiful cubes with individual little spaces for each pair, things tossed here and there. It was depressing really.

The thought crossed my mind that I ought to clean out that closet while I have a little extra time at home. Then I remembered that I had planned to clean the flower bed in my front yard today. The closet really needed cleaning, but no one can see that. The front yard is seen by all.

How like our spiritual lives. Of course, the David study brought to mind the scripture in 1 Samuel 16:7, "The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." How often we worry about external appearances but do not deal with what cannot be seen on the inside. The problem is when we continually put off dealing with the internal.

Once my closet was clean - then I dumped a pair of shoes in the floor without putting them away. It still didn't look too bad, but a shirt found its way onto a shelf instead of a hanger. Then another pair of shoes in the floor, etc. Eventually, as time went on, it just got worse and worse. Now it is a mess. If you walked in my house today, you would never notice, but it is a mess just the same.

What about one little sin that we ignore or let go? Like that first shoe dumped in the floor. The next thing you know it gets easier to ignore the next one and they begin to pile up. Sooner or later, you are a mess. Oh, not on the outside. On the outside, you have it all together. You look act say the right things and do the right one is the wiser. But all the while, you are a mess inside.

Jesus had a word for people like this. He said they were like tombs that were painted on the outside, but rotten on the inside (Matt. 23:27). I do not want to be rotten on the inside. I want my inside and my outside to be consistent. I might even be in better shape if my inside looked better than my outside.

I opted today for the yard work. It was a good choice because the solitude in the yard gave me time for some introspection. I am identifying things on the inside that need to be sorted, reorganized, prioritized, and much just thrown out. There is much I need to clean up. My closet is still a mess, but my heart is beginning to show progress. With God's help, we will get it cleaned up. And God is a great helper. If you ask for His help, He is expert at showing you what needs to stay and what needs to go. Then He helps you get rid of the trash. The challenge then is keeping it clean once I get it clean.

Who knows...maybe tomorrow I'll tackle that closet.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Honorable Mention

Today was Beth Moore Bible Study Day! We are continuing in our study of David and Beth continues to give us wonderful truths from his life. I always come away from the video sessions with a morsel or two to chew on and today was no exception.

The point that particularly resonated with me today was as follows: "Significant rest comes to the soul when we accept that God alone is in charge of our honor." Psalm 62:7 states, "My salvation and my honor depend on God". Seems like it should be simple enough. When she expounded on the point she raised a question as to whether you have ever been shamed in front of someone and can't seem to regain your dignity with them. In my mind the question also seemed to include allowing someone to steal your confidence. Beth pointed out that some of our biggest conflicts come over matters of personal honor.

Recently, I have had someone in my life who seemed to do just that. In subtle ways, they constantly seemed to undermine my ability to retain my dignity in their presence. It seemed they would say one thing that appeared to build me up and then in the next breath imply that I didn't have a clue. Sounds like verse 4 of the same Psalm, "With their mouths they bless, but in their hearts they curse." There were days I truly didn't know if I were coming or going. My situation is a relatively minor one and was easy enough to resolve. I took myself out of the situation and the presence of this person.

I know that there are many in situations out there that are not so easy to resolve. Abusive marriages, prodigal children, difficult parents, and the list could go on. There are people who live every day of their lives with someone who tears them down, undermines their confidence and destroys their dignity. You may be one. You may not be able to extract yourself so easily, but there is a truth you can know. God defends your honor. Verse 5 tells us that our souls find rest in "God alone". No one else can determine if we are honorable or not - that right is God's alone.

Unfortunately, it is not always so easy to let go of all those negative feelings. I have spent more than enough time and energy over the last few weeks rising to the occasion in my mind. I have had heated conversations with the person in question and let them know exactly what I thought and how I feel. I have reduced them to a quivering heap a million times in my mind. In reality, I have not only allowed them to destroy my dignity, but I've helped them along by replaying these scenes over and over in my head. My soul has not been at rest, it has been at war.

How to combat the negative soundtrack running in your brain? Know what God has to say about you. Know what God has done for you. Know what His word says about you. And when that track starts playing in your head, hit the stop button and change the tape (CD, MP3, you get the idea). Play God's soundtrack instead. I am not incompetent, I am powerful because I have God's power flowing through me. Get the picture?

So let me give you what I think is one of the sweetest verses in the Bible to get you started. Zephaniah 3:17: "The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing." Picture a crying child. There is a mother who delights in that child. She shushes and sings to quiet her baby. God is singing over you. He is defending your honor. You can hold your head high no matter what circumstance you are living in. He LOVES you.

Recommended Resources:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Running the Race: Lessons Learned from a "Rugged Maniac"

My daughter in law is a bit of a fitness nut. She loves to eat right and work out and seems to think that running long races involving obstacle courses is an idea of fun. I feel really good about myself for walking around the block! 

She recently ran in a race called the "Rugged Maniac" with a number of other Army Wives from Fort Knox and as I looked through her pictures, I thought about how like this race our lives are. Sometimes its all downhill. Sometimes it is not. As we move through life we encounter many obstacles and trials. Some are conquered without much effort. Most are not. How well we are ready to run the race and meet the obstacles is critical. One thing is always sure - it is rarely EASY. Several scriptures came to mind so I am giving you a "Rugged Maniac" montage with lessons from scripture to relate.

Cris Pre-race
1. You Have to Be Prepared.
Stretching before the race

Just as you cannot run a physical race without training and preparation, in order to run the race of life well we must be prepared to meet obstacles before they happen. We can only do that by spending time in God's Word and in relationship with Him in order to face what is coming.

14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.”15 But sanctify the Lord God  in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. 1 Peter 3:14-16

Peter was writing to Christians who were suffering and encountering trials. He encouraged them to be prepared to share their hope with a world that is not adequately prepared for the race.

2. The Race is Easier if You Run Together.

Army Wives of Fort Knox - Rugged Maniac Team

24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-26

We need to support each other in the race. Hebrews tell us to encourage one another and cause others to do good works. The world around us looks like a bleak place some days, but if we run as a team, we will make it to the end and finish well.

3. We Must Run With Joy

Cristin Post Race

23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. 24 But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. Acts 20:23-24
Paul often used the analogy of the race. Here in Acts he speaks of prison and tribulations, but nothing bothers him. He only wants to run with joy. We do not get to choose the obstacles we face. We simply have to keep running. No one faced more trials and obstacles than Paul (2 Corinthians 11:23-29), but his goal was to run with joy in order to glorify Jesus Christ. How often are we less than joyful over the little obstacles that come our way?

4. We Must Run With Endurance

1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

Aren't there days when life just wears you down? We must keep going. There are things that distract us and tempt us to quit running. There are days we think we just can't take it anymore. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we have to stay focused on our goal - Jesus. When we are focused on Him and not on the obstacle ahead, we will find the stamina to keep going.

5. We Must Run With the End in Mind

Crossing the Finish Line

24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. 25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.  1 Corinthians 9:23-24

What do we get for all our trouble? There is a prize. A crown that won't wilt or rust or bend. Athletes in Paul's day were given a laurel wreath to wear as a crown when they won a race or event. Because it was organic material, it eventually would wilt and rot. God is going to give us a crown that will never rot or decompose. And one day when we come into His glorious presence, we will get to take it off and place it right back at His feet! The very feet that were nailed to a cross for us. That seems like a prize worth competing for.

The other great thing about this prize is: everyone can win it! There is no gold, silver and bronze. Everyone who finishes gets one, regardless of your rank in line.

6. We Must Remember the Purpose of the Obstacles

Running Through Fire

6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8 whom having not seen[a] you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.  1 Peter 1:7-9

When the race is long and we feel as through we are running through fire, we can know that we are being refined. Not refined so that we can "be a better person" or just to "build our character", but to make us presentable to our King. In order to give praise and honor and glory to Him.

7. We Must Finish Well

6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.  2 Timothy 4:6-8

Paul was in prison and knew that he was nearing the end of his life. He could look back and know that, in spite of all the hardship he experienced, he had finished well.

How are you running your race today?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Passion Fruit

I recently started the Beth Moore Bible Study "David: A Heart Like His". In the first sessions, as we began the study with a look at King Saul, Beth mentioned in her material that Saul was not passionate about being king. As a matter of fact, when the leaders of the nation of Israel looked for Saul to crown him, he was hiding. Beth concluded that, in looking at Saul's life and reign as king, his position exceeded his passion.

This statement struck me like a ton of bricks. In fact, I have been mulling over it for at least two weeks now. Why? Because I recently found myself in a similar situation and it has caused me to ask myself the question, "What am I passionate about?". I have certainly realized with startling clarity in recent days what I am NOT passionate about. Unfortunately, for a period of time, that which I was not passionate about seemed to overtake my life. Interestingly enough, it tuned out not to be a fruitful endeavor for me. It also negatively affected relationships with friends, family, and most of all my Lord. Like Saul, I was qualified, had the proper knowledge and ability, and had a following of people who wanted me in my "position". What I lacked from the beginning was passion. I just wasn't passionate enough about the position to make it work. The situation has now resolved itself and I am moving on, but it continues to beg questions: What drives me? What fuels my life? What is it that gets me really excited? What AM I passionate about?

Like any mother or grandmother - we prefer "Nana" at my house - I could say my children or my grandchildren. I love them passionately. I could say I am passionate about reading. I am never without my Kindle or a book in hand. My husband might say I am "passionate" about technology. I love a new electronic toy any day and can get really excited over the tasks they perform...but is this really who I am?

In searching my heart, I find myself drawn to one of the most passionate men in scripture - the Apostle Paul. In Philippians 3, beginning in verse 7 he writes, "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him....(v. 10) I WANT TO KNOW CHRIST and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."

That, my friends, is passion. Paul was a wealthy, prestigious man and he lost it all when he chose to follow Christ. He didn't care - his goal in life was to know Christ more and more until he became like Him. Jesus sums it up in Matthew 16:26: "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" Big salary, nice house, fancy car - it means nothing without knowing Christ. And once you start to know Christ, the importance of all those things begins to fade because you truly start to understand that HE is all you need.

I pray that I can say with Paul "I want to know Christ" and that He is my passion. That will be a fruitful endeavor. A little passion fruit - its good for the heart....

Friday, September 9, 2011

September 11

I wrote this 10 years ago after the attacks....

Our enemy has walked among us,
Striking swift and sure.
Hope seems lost with life and peace.
How much can we endure?
Haunting pictures sear our minds,
All innocence is lost.
We've learned the frailty of our lives,
But, why at such a cost?
Empty arms that ache for loved ones
One more time to hold.
Grief stricken faces, broken hearts
Cling to fragile hope.
But from the ashes, more will rise
Than death and pain and grief.
America will stand united
Firm in its belief:
We are a nation under God,
It is in Him we trust.
For sustenance in crisis,
We will turn to Him - we must.
God bless this nation; make it strong,
A light for all to see.
Illuminating freedom
Faith and liberty!

Judie Britt
September 11, 2001
We will not forget.