Tuesday, September 23, 2014

“Our Lord is great…we’ll never comprehend what He knows and does.” ~ Psalm 147:5

Do you ever struggle with understanding God's will? Of course, on one hand we all know that there is absolutely no way to understand God's will or God's plan. He is so much more than we can imagine and He is not limited by our understanding. On the other hand, we all try at times to figure out what He should do or why He does some things. Most of the time, I just try to let go and be content with the fact that I can't know or won't know and He is in control.

“I had to be willing to live inside the mystery…Some things in life will never make sense. They won’t be made right or explained. At least in our lifetime. They float around in a swirl of mystery. I wanted God to explain all that mystery to me before I agreed to trust Him. But I discovered it doesn’t work that way. He is God, and He doesn’t have to explain anything. When I understood that, then I could surrender to Christ and step inside the mystery instead of stand back and resist.”
~ Robin Jones Gunn

This reminds me of a conversation Josh & I were having on Friday night. We had dinner with our beloveds and the topic of conspiracy theories came up. This is fascinating stuff for Josh and he really gets into it. It's not a favorite topic of mine, but I was trying to explain to him what I think about it. Yes, conspiracies and cover-ups exist and while it is interesting to discuss and research we will never know for certain the answer to questions like - who killed JFK? was Marilyn Monroe killed or did she really commit suicide? did aliens land on earth and exist in Area 51? etc. We won't know the answers because people don't want us to know and maybe we shouldn't need to know everything. I can be frustrated that I don't know the answers, or I can just let it go and trust that it's in my best interest to not know. And in regards to conspiracy theories, sometimes I just don't care enough to research or ponder. It's kind of like God's will - we can't know everything even if we want to and we can either be frustrated or just be content to trust Him.

"God wants us to realise His sovereignty. We are apt to tie God up in His own laws and allow Him no free will. We say we know what God will do, and suddenly He upsets all our calculations by working in unprecedented ways; just when we expected He would do a certain thing, He did the opposite. There are unexpected issues in life; unexpected joys when we looked for sorrow, and sorrow when we expected joy, until we learn to say, all my expectations are from Thee." ~ Oswald Chambers

God works in mysterious and, what can seem to us, contradictory ways. He is gracious when we would be judgmental. He is loving when we would be angry. He allows us to hurt when we want Him to heal. He can see the big picture that we are incapable of seeing from our limited perspective. He moves in our lives in ways we don't understand and can't imagine. Most often we can see more clearly looking back the hows and whys of things we have to go through - and sometimes we never understand but we have to choose to trust that even in our inability to understand He is in control.

“Consider what God has done: who can straighten what He has made crooked? When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other.”
~ Ecclesiastes 7:13-14b

“The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be. It may seem to be much worse, but in the end it’s going to be a lot better and a lot bigger.” ~ Elisabeth Elliot

Learning to be content in our circumstances and learning to trust God even when we don't understand...that is difficult. That is something we learn our whole lives. And just because we get scared and forget to trust doesn't mean we failed forever. It's then that we put our hand back in His and say "I trust You." I struggle with this a lot. I do believe that God is in control and I do trust that He has a plan. But when troubles come, as they always do, I tend to get worried and scared and wonder what in the world I am going to do. I take my eyes off of God and try to succeed on my own...and always fail...and then I am reminded that He is in control, that all I have to do is trust Him.

“Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?” ~ Psalm 113:5-6

 “By Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible.” ~ Colossians 1:16

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher that your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” ~ Isaiah 55:9

Do you ever think about how big God is? How majestic and amazing and incredible He is? He has always existed. He created everything. He created us and knows every intimate detail of us. He knows how many hairs are on your head. He loved us so much that He sent His only Son to come and die for our sins and be resurrected so that we could have the opportunity to be with Him forever. Everything that we see and understand - He knows. Even the things we don't understand and don't see - He sees them and knows them. He is so much more than we can imagine or understand. It can be overwhelming, but in the best possible way. Because He is so big and He is completely in control we are able to rest in Him...we are able to be content. But we have to trust Him.

“You can’t always see God’s purposes in every season, but you can always have His peace, His presence, and His promises.”
~ Christine Caine

"According to the wisdom of this world, God seems to be haphazard. He is not calculable in His providence; He works in ways we cannot estimate. If we try to work things out in logical ways, we are apt to find that suddenly in the providence of God a great upheaval comes we had never calculated on." ~ Oswald Chambers

“God is not a man, so He does not lie. He is not human, so He does not change His mind. Has He ever spoken and failed to act? Has He ever promised and not carried it through?” ~ Numbers 23:19

It's incredible to look back at ways that God has provided. Things that don't make sense or that shouldn't be important. Like the unicorn stuffed animal that I wanted as a child and God provided through the relationship of a man who recycled trash with the neighborhood who noticed and set things aside for him. I didn't NEED a unicorn, but how blessed I continue to be knowing that God heard and provided a simple child's heartfelt prayer request. Or how God provided ice and a chair with a back in the midst of training camp - just when I needed it and even before I thought to pray about it. God knows everything about us. He knows the things we are afraid to imagine or ask for in prayer. He knows the things we're scared to admit. He knows our fears and our joys and our struggles. 

“Our stories affect one another whether we know it or not. Sometimes obedience isn’t for us at all, but for another. We don’t know how God holds the kingdom in balance or why He moves a chess piece at a crucial time; we might never see the results of His sovereignty. But we can trust Him when He says press on, cling to hope, stay the course. He is always at work, even if the entire thread is hidden. I might just be one shade of one color of one strand, but I’m a part of an elaborate tapestry that goes beyond my perception.” ~ Jen Hatmaker

One of the ways I see God's hand at work is in my best friend. We've known each other for 21 years and in those years we've had our ups and downs. We fought over the same guy, we went to different schools during our senior year in high school, we struggled with growing up and growing apart, and though we've had some pretty difficult times apart, God has always brought our lives back together. I don't understand why this one relationship has been able to break and hurt and then heal and grow even stronger so many times but I know it's simply due to God at work in the two of us.

Over the past few years, I have seen a change in my best friend. Something I had prayed for, but to be honest wasn't sure would ever happen. I always loved her as she was and did my best to be the best friend possible. But in her now I see a depth of love and trust in the Lord that has truly been a miracle. It's not that life has gotten easier - in fact, she's had many struggles. But she trusts God with her life - she has sought forgiveness from people she hurt and forgiven people who had hurt her, she frequently asks for prayer and often gives such good advice and Godly wisdom and it just blesses my heart. I have always been grateful for her friendship and I am doubly thankful for the ways that I've learned more about God through her and the ways He keeps drawing our hearts together as friends and sisters.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.” ~ 1 Corinthians 2:9

I think God just loves to go above and beyond our wildest imaginings...He must get such joy from blowing our minds. And even when we experience difficult things that make us question God, we have to remind ourselves that He is God and what He knows we may not be able to understand but He does and all we have to do is trust Him. Yes, it can be hard to do this...but when we do we can have His peace. We like to have control...or think we have control. But really it's an illusion. What we can trust is God - He is faithful, He is love, He is God.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God …will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 4:6-7

“O LORD, You know what’s good and bad, what’s better and worse, what’s best and worst – may my prayer be as You wish it to be.”
~ Thomas a Kempis

Last week, a coworker shared this wonderful illustration at our monthly staff meeting. Whenever we tell someone we care about "I love you", they usually will respond with "I love you too." Well, since we know that God loves us and is always telling us "I love you", then we should respond with "I love you too." I'm definitely going to try to remember this...maybe you will too.

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for being trustworthy and faithful. Thank You for being so much more that I can possibly imagine and for designing this beautiful world and all that is in it. Help me to remember to trust You even when I don't understand or whenever I'm scared and feel alone or worried. Bring reminders to mind of Your faithfulness so that I remember to place my complete trust in You. I know You have a plan for my life and I want to trust You to fulfill that purpose in whatever ways You desire. Thank You for loving me. I love you too. Amen.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

“Be patient. God isn’t finished with you yet.” ~ Philippians 1:6

I'm having trouble figuring out my new beginning. I know God brought me through the past few years for a reason. I know that the struggle and controversy and deep study was important. I have faith that there is a purpose. And like the title of this post, I'm trying to be patient because I know God isn't finished with me yet. Ultimately, I know I'll spend the rest of my life learning about God, drawing closer to Him, and finding new and deeper ways to know and love Him.

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” ~ Joseph Campbell

As expected, I went through a lot of emotions on this journey. I was angry, I was hurt, I was confused, I was heartbroken, I was sad, I was mad. I didn't want to leave a place where I felt at home, but as weeks passed it felt less and less like a safe place. I felt a desperate hunger to read the Bible and know what God had to say about the topics I was struggling with. I felt an (unwanted) need to study theology and read books that didn't appeal to me generally. As I studied and read and pondered and prayed, I kept feeling like there was some kind of future purpose for all this. Some way to share what I had gone through and how it affected me. In a lot of ways, this blog feels like the fruition of that feeling of purpose. But perhaps there is more.

“God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.” ~ Psalm 51:10

“Beginnings hold the promise of hope, the expectation of the new and fresh. They are a chance to start over or anticipate.” ~ Nancy Ortberg

God is big on new beginnings. He is in the business of taking us from where we were to the places He wants us to be. He is more than capable of turning the pain of our past into the promise of tomorrow. The Bible is full of stories of people who messed up - some of them big time and some of them what we might consider small or not at all - who God chose to use for His purpose and for His glory. While we may not be able to understand why God does the things He does, or why He chooses to use our broken, messed up selves, we can cling to the knowledge that He is faithful, He is in control and He is God.

“Perhaps…the most important thing is to keep on; not to be discouraged however often one yields to the temptation; but always to pick yourself up again and ask forgiveness.” ~ C.S. Lewis

“When God forgives, He never casts up at us the mean, miserable things we have done. ‘I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins.’ A cloud cannot be seen when it is gone.”
~ Oswald Chambers

I mess up. I make poor choices. I hurt people who I love. I don't usually intend to do it, but I let my selfishness get in the way of being loving and forgiving. I am definitely not perfect. But when I mess up, I go to God and ask forgiveness. He is ready and willing to forgive and even more exciting...to forget. He never brings up our past. We do that often enough on our own...and definitely Satan likes to bring up our past and tries to make us believe that God couldn't possibly truly forgive, let alone forget all the terrible things we've done. But he's wrong...God does forgive and God does forget.

"Never limit God by remembering what you have done in the past. When you come into relation with the Reality of Redemption God creates something in you that was... never there before; it is the active working of the life of God in you; consequently you can do now what you could not do before." ~ Oswald Chambers

“Though I fall, I will rise again.” ~ Micah 7:8

It can be hard...perhaps it even feels impossible...to move forward from our past. And we will never be perfect. We will always mess up. We will always need forgiveness. We will always have to begin again. But if we put our life in God's hands, we know that we are in the best possible place. He wants to make us new. He wants to work in our lives for good and make good things come from our life. Even from our past. We just have to keep trying...keep trusting...keep depending on God to see us through. And He is faithful and He is trustworthy and He is dependable and He loves us.

“We don’t always succeed in what we try – certainly not by the world’s standards – but I think you’ll find it’s the willingness to keep trying that matters most.” ~ Mister Rogers

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”
~ Mary Anne Radmacher

God knows everything about us. Even the things we think are hidden - He knows. He knows the things we share willingly with Him or with others. He knows the things we want to hide - from others and sometimes from ourselves. He knows our emotions, our struggles, our hurts, our fears. He made us and He knows us intimately. And the only reason we can move forward from our past is because of Who He is and what He has done for us. Without the sacrifice of His Son and the resurrection that followed, we would never be able to measure up...we can't measure up. But Jesus stands in our place - His righteousness makes us righteous in God's eyes. And when we believe that, we can be free to live a new life in Christ.

“The God of the universe, the one who holds the stars and the moon in place, knows everything about you and loves you with unprecedented abandon. He knows the good, the bad, and the ugly. He knows the things you are proud of and the things you hide. He knows it all, and he invites you to come just as you are and live the dream he has for you.”
~ Sheila Walsh

“…you are adequate because God is. So whether you are feeling not-good-enough or comfortably adequate in yourself, the Lord knows and he is able. You are a servant of a new covenant – not a law-based, do-it-yourself kind of faith, but a grace-based, Jesus-already-did-it kind. This faith is based on his finished work, not our work yet to be done. So let me encourage you to lead from that place, a place of dependence, a place of freedom, a place of complete security.” ~ Emily P. Freeman

God has a plan for our lives. He knows what He wants us do. He knows what choices we will make. He knows when we will mess up. He knows when we ask forgiveness. He knows how He will make beauty from ashes. It doesn't always makes sense...especially when we're in the midst of pain and suffering and hurt...but if we can just place our faith and trust in Him and His plan we can have joy.

 “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”
~ Ephesians 2:10

The below verse is another version of one I mentioned earlier...and it's like a prayer. I'm praying it for me...and for you.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit away from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” ~ Psalm 51:10-12

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for Your forgiveness and Your plan for my life. Thank You for taking the pain of the past and making it into a beautiful future that shows Your goodness and grace. Please help me to depend on You, to remember that I'm always in Your presence, to never give up and to keep turning back to You when I fail. Thank You for Your salvation and help me to live for You. To obey. To live and move and have my being in You. Help me to be as gracious and forgiving toward others as You are toward me. Help me to trust You for the new beginnings You have for my life. Thank You for loving me. I love you. Amen.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

“Mercy triumphs over judgment!” ~ James 2:13

I've struggled a lot with this post. I tried to write last week, and several times this week, but for one reason or another I haven't been able to write. Honestly, part of it is fear. This topic strikes close to the one that caused us to leave our last church. There is fear about what people might think. There is fear about rocking the boat.

“The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that.” ~ Proverbs 29:25

I know I shouldn't be afraid. I know what God has shown me in His Word and the study He's had me on for the past years. I know that people's opinions aren't as important as God's opinion. I probably should read my post about fear and being afraid again. Here's the link in case you struggle like I do. More important than my fear or worry is the truth of God - He is loving, He is merciful, He gives grace. These things are true - amazingly wonderfully true - all the time!

"Among the lost souls in hell there is not one that can say, "I went to Jesus, and He refused me." It is not possible that you or I should be the first to whom Jesus shall break His word. "This man receiveth sinners," but He repulses none. We come to Him in weakness and sin, with trembling faith, and small knowledge, and slender hope; but He does not cast us out. We come by prayer, and that prayer broken; with confession, and that confession faulty; with praise, and that praise far short of His merits; but yet He receives us. We come diseased, polluted, worn out, and worthless; but He doth in no wise cast us out. Let us come again today to Him who never casts us out." ~ C.H. Spurgeon

This idea that Jesus will accept us if we go to Him, confess our sins and ask forgiveness, and allow Him into our hearts and lives - I always believed that. I've known that since I was 4 years old and accepted the Lord. I've never questioned that belief or wondered about it. But...the following idea was raised by someone in a position of authority..."It doesn't matter if we accept Christ, but if Christ accepts us." It immediately raised concerns for me. It immediately upset me. It immediately caused me to question and doubt even more strongly the words this speaker had been saying for months.

“God told them, ‘I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love and more love! And so now, I’ll start over with you and build you up again,’” ~ Jeremiah 31:3

“God’s arms are always extended; we are the ones who turn away.”
~ Philip Yancey

God loves us and seeks a relationship with us. His arms are open wide and willing to accept us if we just let go and give our hearts to Him. We don't have to be afraid that we are too bad, too broken, too messed up or too sinful. If we confess, God will forgive. It is as simple, as profound, as incredible as that. He is in charge but we have to humble ourselves. And once we ask forgiveness, that sin is gone, forgotten, never to be brought up again.

“When God forgives, He never casts up at us the mean, miserable things we have done. ‘I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins.’ A cloud cannot be seen when it is gone.”
~ Oswald Chambers

“Cry for help and you’ll find its grace and more grace.” ~ Isaiah 30:19

Sometime in high school, I learned a simple description of the difference between grace and mercy. Grace is getting what we don't deserve. Mercy is not getting what we do deserve. These meanings have stuck with me and while I probably have sometimes taken their importance for granted, in the past few years I have been so grateful and humbled by God's amazing grace and mercy for us. He doesn't have to give grace, but He chooses to. We deserve judgment for our sins and our disobedience, and yet He has incredible mercy. Such amazing love!

"Meditate a little on this mercy of the Lord. It is tender mercy. With gentle, loving touch, He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds. He is as gracious in the manner of His mercy as in the matter of it…It is great mercy. There is nothing little in God; His mercy is like Himself—it is infinite. You cannot measure it. His mercy is so great that it forgives great sins to great sinners, after great lengths of time, and then gives great favours and great privileges, and raises us up to great enjoyments in the great heaven of the great God…It is unfailing mercy. It will never leave thee. If mercy be thy friend, mercy will be with thee in temptation to keep thee from yielding; with thee in trouble to prevent thee from sinking; with thee living to be the light and life of thy countenance; and with thee dying to be the joy of thy soul when earthly comfort is ebbing fast." ~ C.H. Spurgeon

Here was part of my struggle - someone in authority was telling me that I was a terrible sinner who could not be assured of my salvation, that it was only through strict obedience to described interpretations of Scripture and essentially hard work that I could try to prove my faith and even then it might not be true faith. This contradicted everything I had been raised to believe, everything I had come to believe in my own walk with God. But it sounded so true and Biblically supported. I was conflicted and I was lost and I was upset.

"It seems to me that we are far too willing to short sell grace in order to obtain a set of rules that will "prove" our devotion."
~ Darlene “Dee” Parsons (in this article)

"Look back over your own history as revealed to you by grace, and you will see one central fact growing large: God is love. . . . In the future, when trial and ...difficulties await you, do not be fearful; whatever and whoever you may lose faith in, let not this faith slip from you:
God is Love." ~ Oswald Chambers

The best thing that came out of this time of confusion and anger and hurt was my deeper faith and trust in God. I sought truth in God's Word. I prayed and I listened for God's direction. I sought the guidance and wisdom of strong Godly men and women that God had placed in my life. And I looked to the truth of what I already knew - God loves me, God saved me...I am His and He is mine...I am accepted in the Beloved...I am a child of God and nothing can change that truth.

“I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus.” ~ Philippians 3:12-14

God has done the true work. I am nothing without Him and His wonderful grace and mercy. I am a sinner who doesn't deserve anything but judgment...and yet God is gracious, He is merciful and He loves me. He loves you. No matter what you've done, no matter what you think about your worth - God is waiting for you to see His wide open arms of love and to confess your sin and let His truth and grace and mercy fill your heart.

“He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” ~ 2 Timothy 1:9

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
~ Hebrews 4:16

I'm not perfect and my relationship with God is a journey that I will be on forever. I've learned that just because someone is in a position of authority doesn't mean that they are the ultimate authority...the ultimate authority is God. I've learned to depend on God alone...to study His Word and seek His direction in my life...I'm learning to not be afraid. I've learned what I believe and why I believe it. I've learned that growing involves struggle and conflict. I've been reminded how much God loves me and it makes me want to be sure that you know that God loves you too.

I heard this song for the first time at my cousin Brandon & his wife Leyate's wedding last September. Theirs was a beautifully heartfelt rendition by their friends during a time of worship in their wedding ceremony and I just sobbed as I was reminded just how much God loves us.
He does love us...oh how He loves us.

Dear heavenly Father, thank You, thank You, thank You for how much You love us. Thank You for Your amazing grace and Your incredible mercy. Thank You for the many things I've learned about You. Thank You for teaching me and surrounding me with people who help draw me closer to You. Help me to do the same for others. Please help me to not be afraid. Help me to place my complete trust and faith in You...in all circumstances. I love you. Amen