Friday, September 2, 2011

Ultimate Failure

Please watch this video before you read the rest of the post:
What would you do?

Well, I discovered what I would do as I was in New Orleans. I discovered that I would walk by, not making eye contact. I was more brave with my husband and would offer a smile, but my heart was gripped with the "what if they approach me?"

There is one instance in particular that is seared in my brain and heart forever now. When my husband was in meetings I was on my own. I was not comfortable at all on these streets without his presence beside me. So as I ventured out one day to get lunch I thought I would be brave enough to go past the Arby's that was right next to our hotel.

I ventured out, but I ventured out in fear. Trying not to make eye contact with anyone. (My shoulders sag now in defeat as I remember that I was to be strong and courageous.) There was one woman that was sitting up against a building shoeless. As I walked past she asked me for money for shoes. I kept walking as though I never heard her. I did not even acknowledge her existence.

How very cruel of me.

I could use the excuse that I was a woman alone on the streets of New Orleans following my husbands instructions to be careful... but that just doesn't seem to justify the situation in any way does it? I could use the excuse of email after email that claims that rapist and murderers and thieves use the "female in distress" tactic to lure in victims, but even this does not make me feel any better about my action... or rather my lack of action.

What I wished I would have done is to have sat down against the wall with this obviously broken woman and asked her what her story was. I wish I would have looked this woman in the eyes and showed her compassion. I wish I would have taken the time and opportunity to discover who she was. How did she end up her on this street, with no shoes, asking strangers for money?

Oh how I regret that I did not do this.

She asked for shoes... and I should have told her of the shoes of the gospel of peace.

"and having shod YOUR FEET
Ephesians 6:15 

Where were my beautiful feet?

"How will they preach unless they are sent?
Just as it is written,
Romans 10:15

Apparently my beautiful feet were left in the comfort zone of my hotel room. My feet were not beautiful at all on these streets of New Orleans. I left my room not with the prayer of  "God use me today to share your good news."  I left my room with the only thought of "God, let me get something to eat and make my way safely back to my room." 

"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
Because the LORD has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD"
Isaiah 61:1-2

Is not the Spirit of the Lord within me so that I might bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and set the prisoner free? To proclaim to them that today is the day of salvation, that now is the favorable year of the Lord? Was this not what I was called to do as bond-servant of my Most High God? Oh, let the redeemed of the Lord say so!

Epic fail.

Ultimate failure.

So I return from New Orleans with a heavy heart and the ghost of a small voice that says, "Can you help me get some shoes?" I walk into the comfort of my home and the love of my family and the plenty that I have and am so very didisappointed in my lack of compassion and the fact that I let fear of danger control me and the fact that I know I did not shod my feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace. I had not prepared my heart and mind to here this type of unction from my Lord because I left my room already planning not to make eye contact or address anyone. 

May I never fail in this way again.
May I never leave my house unprepared to share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ again.

May God send someone to this woman to fix my failure, may she hear the good news from a truer bond-servant than I. May she know the freedom that Christ suffered to give her. May her feet be shod with the gospel of peace...
for mine certainly were not.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Crucibles Create Christlikeness

God sometimes seems to put us in the vise, and then He tightens it and tightens it more, until we think, in the pain of His sovereign squeeze, "What's He trying to do to me?" We walk closer to Him and even closer to Him. We don't see how we could walk any closer, but still more tests come, one on top of another.

That's where Elijah is, but he doesn't waver. He stands tall and silent in the shadow of God, grounded in faith, confident of his Lord's power. That's humility at its best. He doesn't question God. He doesn't fall apart at the seams. He doesn't lose control.
~ Swindoll

If you walk with the Lord long enough, you will discover that His tests often come back-to-back. Or perhaps it would be even more accurate to say back to back to back to back to back. Usually, His preparatory tests don't stop with one or two. They multiply. And as soon as you climb out of one crucible thinking, "Okay, I made it through that one," you're plunged into another, where the flame is even hotter.
Crucibles create Christlikeness.
~ Swindoll

I don't know about you, but I have come to realize that I usually attempt to determine whether or not God is pleased with me according to what "good" things are happening in my life.

If I am going through test after test and trial after trial I tend to feel as though I am doing something wrong, not pleasing God in some area of my life, that I am just not getting the point.

I have a tendency to judge my own life the way Job's friends judged his. "Well there must be some sin that God is trying to get me to confess, some sin that is separating me from Him so he's putting me through this, something in my flesh that must be crucified, something I am blind to, and He must be trying to open my eyes..."

So reading these quotes by such a great man of faith as Chuck Swindoll, well it helps. These words shared by Swindoll are really truths that I already know, but somehow in the midst of the vise, the test, I forget them.

This is why God tells us to not forsake the assembly (Hebrews 10:24-25).
We need each other, we need to encourage each other, we need to surround ourselves with a cloud of witnesses to the truth of God and the solid foundation of His Word, and to build up one another's faith. We need a Aaron and a Hur to hold up our arms when we grow weary in this battle of life (Exodus 17:12).

since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us,
let us also lay aside every encumbrance
and the sin which so easily entangles us,
and let us run with endurance
the race that is set before us, 
Hebrews 12:1

God has called us to be watchman on the walls. We are to watch out for each other and we are not to keep silent. We are called to remind God of His promises, not that He needs reminded, but we do.

On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen;
All day and all night they will never keep silent.
You who remind the LORD, take no rest for yourselves;
And give Him no rest until He establishes
And makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.
Isaiah 62:6-7 

We are not to sit back and rest in these days, we are to keep watch, to pray without ceasing, to be alert. Jesus said the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41). The weakness of our flesh needs the strength of God and we need each other. Even Christ did not carry His own cross all the way to Calvary. If He didn't why on earth would we think or consider that we can.

We also need to not assume that if we or someone else is going through a time of suffering it is because of sin. Times of suffering do not always mean that God is not pleased with us. God was well pleased with His Son, and His Son suffered more than any man. If Christ learned obedience through suffering why would we think we could learn in any other way?

In the days of His flesh,
He offered up both prayers and supplications
with loud crying and tears
to the One able to save Him from death,
and He was heard because of His piety. 
Although He was a Son,
He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. 
And having been made perfect,
He became to all those who obey Him
the source of eternal salvation,
Hebrews 5:7-9

At any point and time during the sufferings of Christ on this earth in the flesh He could have looked at us and said, "you know what,they just ain't worth this, I'm going back to glory". But He didn't. He took the sufferings with the praise, He took the shouts of "Hosanna" with the shouts of "Crucify" because both were in the will of God. 
The hosanna's alone would never have been enough to bring eternal salvation to man, the crucible is what made Him the Christ, and the crucible is indeed what makes us Christlike.  

A little poem I just penned...

Sometimes the fire is to burn off the dross of sin,
sometimes the fire is to purify the silver within,
but every time it is God who controls the flame,
so no matter the force of the furnace the fire will not be in vain,
the test we might not understand,
the trial may make no sense to man,
but God is He who tightens the vice,
and in His grip we must not lose sight,
that our eyes on Christ must always be fixed,
for this is the reason for our own crucifix,
to take up our cross and follow Him, 
to be conformed to the image of the One who conquered death and sin
let us not view our new life through old eyes of flesh
let us walk by the Spirit that we now in Christ possess
let us not grow weary of doing good
nor prejudge God when He doesn't do what we think he should

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Practice Makes Perfect

This is where we can see the true picture of a believer.
Do you have the ability, even the desire, to forgive another. 

Then Peter came and said to Him,
"Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?
Up to seven times?"
Jesus said to him,
"I do not say to you, up to seven times,
but up to seventy times seven."
Matthew 18:21-22

In our humanness we want a limit. We want to be able to say:
"You've crossed the line"
"You've gone to far"
"I've had it up to here"
"That's the final straw"

What I love here in Matthew 18 as Jesus answers Peter question on a forgiveness limit is that Jesus gives him a limit.
What is it about this limit of seventy times seven?

When we were potty training our girls we had a sticker chart. The chart had set of boxes. There was a beginning and an end to the chart. The stickers had a limit. Every time our girls went to the potty they got a sticker. The goal of course was to be a pee-peeing in the potty pro by the time the sticker chart had reached its limit.
The point of this potty sticker chart was to get our girls in the habit of going to the bathroom. We didn't wait for the girls to "feel" like they had to go to the potty. We made them go whether they felt like it or not.
Do you know that neither of our girls reached that end limit. Both of them had made going to the potty a habit of their life before they ever reached the sticker limit.

This I believe is the point of Jesus's limit.

"...forgiveness is not a matter of quantity, but of quality. A man cannot forgive up to four hundred and ninety times without forgiveness becoming a part of the habit structure of his being. Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude." ~ MLK Jr

So precious one, who are you struggling to forgive?
How about making yourself a Forgiveness Chart for whoever that person is. Give your chart 490 boxes. Everytime you ask God to help you forgive this person, put a sticker in a box. Don't wait until you "feel" like forgiving them, just do it, say it, ask God to help you obey His Word, whether you feel like it or not.

Then also, make a Forgiveness Chart and put your name on it. Give your chart 490 boxes. Everytime you ask God to forgive you, put a sticker in a box. This will help you keep things in perspective.

Here's the thing... I will almost bet that you won't finish either one of those charts before forgiveness becomes a part of your character. Practice will make perfect. You will learn to forgive as you have been forgiven.

"And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors...
For if you forgive others for their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
But if you do not forgive others,
then your Father will not forgive your trangressions."
Matthew 6:12,14-15

Monday, August 29, 2011

Toughminded and Tenderhearted

God is neither hardhearted nor softminded. He is toughminded enough to transcend the world; he is tenderhearted enough to live in it. He does not leave us alone in our agonies and struggles. He seeks us in dark places and suffers with us and for us in our tragic prodigality.
At times we need to know that the Lord is a God of justice. When slumbering giants of injustice emerge in the earth, we need to know that there is a God of power who can cut them down like the grass and leave them withering like the green herb. When our most tireless efforts fail to stop the surging sweep of oppression, we need to know that in this universe is a God whose matchless strength is a fit contrast to the sordid weakness of man.
But there are also times when we need to know that God possesses love and mercy. When we are staggered by the chilly winds of adversity and battered by the raging storms of disappointment and when through our folly and sin we stray into some destructive far country and are frustrated because of a strange feeling of homesickness, we need to know that there is Someone who loves us, cares for us, understands us, and will give us another chance.
When days grow dark and nights grow dreary, we can be thankful that our God combines in his nature a creative synthesis of love and justice which will lead us through life's dark valleys and into sunlit pathways of hope and fulfilment.
-- from Strength to Love by Martin Luther King Jr

So many times people try to only pick one side of God. When someone has hurt us we want Him to be a God who deals with that person, but when we are the one who has done the hurting we want a God of mercy. I agree with Mr. King, I am thankful our God is both toughminded and tenderhearted. Toughminded enough to give us truth and discipline but tenderhearted enough to give us a second chance when we have went away from that truth.
This is the example that Jesus gave us when he came to reveal God to us in the flesh.

Jesus was toughminded. He could not be "handled" no matter how hard the people tried. He could not be influenced or swayed or deceived or stumped. He could not be emotionally manipulated or intimidated by popular opinion. He used his mind. He knew how to think. He knew truth and the lie can never stand up against the truth.

Jesus was also tenderhearted enough that he felt compassion for all. He didn't use His knowledge to condemn another or beat them further down into their sin. He didn't see Himself as more superior and walk over the one who was dead in their sin. Jesus rolled up His sleeves and got right down in the muck of another's life in order to use His tough mind to pull them up.

We are called as believers to be "shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16), "to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil." (Romans 16:19) We too must be both toughminded and tenderhearted. Our minds must be strong enough to hold up against all the lies of the enemy and all the philosophies and false doctrines of man. Yet we must also be able to give compassion (not pity) and mercy and grace to those who in their soft mind and weakness have become a prey.

I believe this can only be accomplished in and through Christ in us. We have not the ability to do this on our own... we will either be tenderhearted with no toughmind, allowing all sorts of sin and corruption with no rebuke, calling it tolerance or even love. Or we will be only toughminded and will love not. We will be cold and heartless and show no compassion to those who live below our standard.

As I parent my children I can see the need for both the tenderheart and toughmind. I must be toughminded so that I know how to lead them and set a standard and expect it to be kept. I have to be toughminded enough to not allow my children to "handle" me. My children will not control me by emotion. However, I also need to be tenderhearted with my children showing them love and mercy and grace. They need to know that they are loved because they are mine, not because they are perfect.

My parents use to tell me that they loved me with one hand and the other hand was for my backside when I got out of line. And it was true. I knew they loved me no matter what, but I also knew they would discipline me no matter what.

Hmmm how interesting it is that over and over as we discover the truths of the character of God we find the greatest illustrations of Him (other than Christ Himself) in the family, either through marriage or the raising of our children.

No wonder Satan works so hard to destroy and distort the family...

"God created man in His own image,
in the image of God He created him;
male and female He created them."
Genesis 1:27

New Orleans Day One

Well yesterday was my first experience with New Orleans.
I walked with my husband down the streets... some of them beautiful... some of them flat out terrifying and so very sad.

Yes I went down Bourbon Street.

I have never been to a city like this one. I usually feel rather safe where ever I am and don't scare very easily. Of course this has gotten me in trouble many times.
In my life I have ended up in many places I had no business being. What made it worse was that I was in these places with no protection or covering. I was indeed very foolish in my days of rebellion against my God.

I had actually planned to come to Mardi Gras once when in these days of rebellion. After walking down this street on the arm of my protective husband, I know that it was God's intervention that stopped this visit. I believe my plan was actually to come to the Mardi Gras after I met my husband, it was meeting him that stopped that road trip. I had him on my mind, not Mardi Gras.

I shudder to think of what might have happened had I been so foolish to have come to this place during that time as a 21 year old woman, who would have at that time no doubt been intoxicated and blind, and without the covering of God, or my father, or a husband.
I thank God for His times of divine intervention.

We made it to Bourbon Street and my husband looked at me and said "Are you ready?" My hands began to sweat immediately and my stomach went in to knots. But yes I was ready.

The smell was different on this street, my husband described it as a mix of urine and vomit, like the smell of the nastiest night club bathroom you had ever been in... and yes that is how the entire street smelled. We both know that smell well from our own days of rebellion against God and His ways.

There was a sense of iminate danger, and the feeling of knowing that this was a place of evil.

I walked with a death grip on my husbands hand. Yet I walked with confidence and assurance because I had two of my greatest protectors with me, my God and my husband.

This was a moment that I was reminded of one of the reasons I love my husband.
He sets his guard around me as if he is my own personal body guard, and he is. When I am on the arm of my husband I truly do not worry, no matter what is going on around me. I knew someone would have to go through him to get to me and he walks with me on his arm in a such a way that says, "She is mine, you touch her, or say or do anything out of the way to her to hurt her in any way and I will kill you."

This is also the way I always felt when I went somewhere with my earthly father. I knew if I was with my Daddy, all would be fine. I still feel that way when with him.

I have been blessed with protection.

As I walked down this street and saw these women, sitting in the doorways, barely clothed, my first thought went to my flesh of fear of my husband seeing them and desiring them over me. Hate and jealousy almost springing up over women who hadn't even saw me or my husband yet.

Crazy? Yes...

Then as I walked, my heart quickly became heavy with sadness for these women... where were their protectors?

In my days of rebellion against God I shook off my protectors. I told my God and my earthly father (not out loud mind you, just in a spiritual sense, I never lost my fear of God nor my Daddy, I know this is what kept me in those days, my fear and underlying respect of them both) that I didn't need them and I went my own way. It was the wrong way and I got hurt. I still bare the scars of this rebellion.

There were men walking up and down this street, but they were there to exploit these women, not protect them. They were here to use them and destroy them, not rescue them. Here was Satan walking in and amongst these men and women blinding them with drunken intoxication and lust of the flesh and the momentary pleasures of sin and binding them in heavier and heavier chains.

I looked at these men and these women and I know that was once me. I know that could easily be me again if I do not stay under the protective arm of my God and my husband. I know this because as we turned off Bourbon Street and up another block, the beauty of New Orleans was seen.
The old buildings with the iron railings. The ferns on the balconies. The horse drawn carriages. The sound of street jazz music playing in the air.
Yes intoxicating.
How easy it would be to come in here on this street and have a glass of wine or mixed drink..., then have another..., and then find yourself back on Bourbon Street....

The devil knows what he is doing.

There was an entire street we walked down that was lined up with booth after booth of "psychics". What was interesting about this was they were set up right outside the front door of a huge beautiful church building. Now I do not know if this is an active church or just a building now, but how very sad the sight was. It reminded me of the days of Ahaz that I studied in Isaiah and how the people brought the idols into the temple of God... and no one cared.

Oh church we must get busy. We can't just keep living our lives behind our stained glass walls and pretending that there are not people out their in chains that need set free.

As we walked down these streets I wondered what would happen if I ran up and down these streets shouting "Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues;..." (Rev 18:4)

Then I had to ask myself, if God really asked me to do that, would I obey?