Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Disciples Study Daily!

I have several devotional books to choose from each morning. When I want to be hit by hard truths, challenged to linger and grow, I turn to Walk With God: The One-Year Devotional. I found this morning’s reading most convicting:

“Most of us…measure our spiritual maturity [this way]. We assume that the heights we’ve reached indicate the level to which we’ve grown. Many Christians…let our spiritual highs determine our self-image, and we live off of their memory while neglecting daily growth. Think of the inconsistency of that. Do we feast one day and then decide that we need no more nutrition for a few weeks? No, our bodies pester us with their need for daily sustenance… Our souls are more subtle. We respond to their hunger pangs with memories of past meals and expect them to be satisfied. But…true discipleship is consistent. The blessings of discipleship and worship are found only in their consistency. Measure yourself not by your highs or lows, but by who you are in between them.”


I have friends who commiserate with me about our lack of daily discipline because we are not in the Word every day. Knowing others have this struggle somehow validates it in my mind; if [insert name of godly friend here] isn’t in the Word every day, then I must be okay even though I am not.

I can have my daily snippets of quick devotional readings and be reminded momentarily of Who God is and inspired to live for Him. But if I’m not reading His Word, His actual Word, every day, then I am backsliding whether it’s apparent or not. My inconsistency makes me an unreliable disciple. No wonder I still struggle with temper and overeating and laziness; little daily snacks don’t satisfy a soul.

As an inspiring writer, I have this sign posted by my computer: “Writers write. Daily.” I continually remind myself that thinking about writing is not writing. Reading about writing is not writing. Planning to write is not writing. If I really want to call myself a writer, I need to write. Every day.

Tonight I’ll be adding a new reminder sign: “Disciples study the Word. Daily.” If I’m going to call myself a Christ-follower, I actually need to follow, to learn, to study, to seek Him. The Amplified Bible (in the book of Acts) repeatedly restates “believe in Him” as “believe, adhere to, trust in and rely upon Him.” The state of mind is not enough. It is the actual doing, the daily discipline of sitting at Jesus’ feet, that makes a disciple.

Disciples study. Daily!

Do you spend time reading the Bible each day? If so, how do you motivate yourself to ensure it gets done?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Who do you think you are?

“Who do you think you are?” “You are nothing special.” “Don’t bother me [with your presence, your talk, your thoughts].” We get this from others, from the world, all the time. Sometimes we sense it by their expressions, their silences, their glares. Other times we hear it out loud. Some of us get it from the ones who are supposed to love us – from their words, from their deeds, from their neglect.

What are we to do with this? Some are set afire; they burn with determination, vowing to rise to such heights, accomplish such marvels that nobody can deny that they not only exist, but conquer. Others lock the ugly words inside themselves and chew on them for so long that they become part of who we are, how we view ourselves. They say, “How could anyone love me?  How can God love me? I am nothing! A worm!”

The self fights this. “I am someone! I will make you love me, because I am worthy of love!” And so the battle begins. Battles with words that scream, that wound, that defy the neglect and ignorance. Some battle by leaving, setting out in search of self, of someone to acknowledge their existence and their greatness. And some just wither up and die, slipping through the dark waters into silent oblivion.

But hear what God says: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…You are precious and honored in my sight, and…I love you.” (Isaiah 43:1-4)

Feeling small, like you don’t matter? Feeling neglected, unloved? Take the hand of the One who sees you, sees your pain, feels your loneliness. The One who knows you best and sings over you (Zephaniah 3:17). The One who so values you that He was willing to die so that you could be with Him forever.

Lord, help us to see ourselves rightly – not as the world sees us, not as less or more than we are, but as redeemed and deeply loved by You. Help us dedicate our lives and hearts to You so that we may know the joy of living with purpose. Amen.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Faithful God, Untrusting People

Today I read from Exodus chapters 13-15. The Israelites had seen the plagues God sent upon Egypt, and the last one should have been fresh in their minds – how all of the firstborn of Egypt (human and animal) were killed except for Israel’s children, simply through blood on the thresholds of their doorways and the Lord’s protection.

They saw how Pharaoh had relented and let them go, how the Egyptians gave them clothing and gold, so that they left slavery with more than they actually owned. All of this occurred through God’s mighty power – after 430 years in Egypt, He heard their prayers and freed them from slavery in a huge, memorable way.

Yet a few short days (weeks? Hours?) later, we find them terrified as they see the Egyptian army chasing them. Granted, the approach of 600 chariots would strike fear into our hearts too. But hadn’t they just seen God’s mighty hand at work? Did they truly believe He had abandoned them now? Or did they think He was sleeping or somehow unable to defeat this mighty army?

“What is this you have done? We would rather be Egyptian slaves than die in the desert!” they cried.

What weak hearts.  What nonexistent faith. The proof of God's presence was right before their eyes – the pillar of cloud by day, the pillar of fire by night. Yet they either forgot Him or felt He would no longer protect them or that He was somehow inadequate against the Egyptian army.

It’s a good thing Moses, their leader, believed God. He encouraged the people in spite of their grumbling. And all of them saw – once again – the Lord’s deliverance in that situation. How could they not see it?

The wind divided the sea and the Israelites walked through on dry sandy soil, with a wall of water to their left and to their right. And after they had all passed through, as the Egyptians pursued them, the Lord closed the sea and not a single Egyptian survived.

Then all of Israel rejoiced and praised God. For a few minutes, anyway. Until they became thirsty and hungry and the grumbling started again.

I find the Israelites' faith so weak, so easy to criticize - and yet somehow familiar.  Were I in their shoes, I would praise God and trust Him to take care of me. Or would I?

The bitter South Dakota winters bring out the worst in me. Though I grumble throughout the year, in this season I become a chronic whiner. I lash out verbally against the wind, the snow, the cold, to anyone who will listen. (And many who won’t. My daughters tire of hearing it.)

I told my husband yesterday that if he were to die, it would take me only ten minutes to move to a state with better weather. He laughed. “I guess I’d best keep our assets easy to sell, since you'll need cash.”

But, whether I like it or not, complaining is sinful. The Israelites’ complaints and my gripes are all in the same category. When I rail against the weather, or the large disasters or small inconveniences of my day, I seek my immediate comfort.  I forget His past goodness, His continued presence, and His future promises.

It’s as if I’m saying, “Lord, I don’t like where You’ve placed me. I don’t trust You to work this to my good. I don’t want to learn the lessons You want to teach me here.”

In the process of becoming Christlike, I have so many miles yet to go.

Father, Help me to learn from the Israelites. Help me to stop fighting You and to relax, trusting that You will work all things for my good as part of Your kingdom. Let me focus on all that You have done for me and trust in Your loving plan for my future.  Forgive my sinful, complaining spirit, and help my words to be fruitful and sweet.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The missing lamb

"You number and record my wanderings;
put my tears into Your bottle - are they not in Your book?"
- Psalm 56:8, Amplified Bible

It's just a stuffed animal.  Just a little white stuffed lamb, about seven  inches tall, with white fur, black button eyes, furry black feet, and a little pink button nose.  A child's plaything, a little girl's joy.  So why does it move me so?

A picture enters my mind.  I squint through the haze, seeking clarity.  The photograph is now black and white, the blurriness gone.  A little girl with long hair and a big smile.  She wears a checkered coat and clutches to her chin this stuffed white lamb.

The girl is my sister at age four.  From days of long ago, when we played and laughed and fought and shared a room.  Long before the stresses of divorce and money worries and single motherhood etched lines deep into her face, around her eyes.  Long before the struggles and fights began with her son.  Long before he took her from us in her sleep.  That was four years ago.

Mom went through old boxes this past month and set some things aside that she thought I might want.  Pillowcases lovingly embroidered by my grandmother, who went to heaven the same year Judy did.  Jewelry from years past.  And the little white lamb.

I cannot stop looking at it, thinking of her.  The one who missed me so much when I moved out of state.  Who I argued with as Mom's health grew worse - why do you stay away?  Because I can't bear to think of life without Mom!  Little did we know that Judy would leave us first.

The one who left such a huge aching gap in our hearts and our lives.  Even now when I see a woman with long sandy blond hair, my breath catches in my throat.  Is it her?  No, I remember, Judy isn't here.  She is with Jesus now.

Some people just slip quietly, peacefully away in their sleep.  Others are taken from us violently, leaving pain and questions and sobs and prison visits in their wake.  I know Judy was glad to leave her life of worry, to find peace with her Savior.  I only wish I had known it would be so soon.

So I am left behind, with grieving parents and a nephew imprisoned for life and far too few reminders of the little girl who was.  The one my youngest daughter no longer remembers.  Will I forget one day too?  How many times did I dial her cell phone those first few weeks just to hear her voice on the recorded message?  May I never forget!

I hold the little lamb close, and I look at her ring on my finger, and I resolve that my life will count.  That it will be fully lived.  Nothing reminds us not to waste our minutes like the life of a loved one taken rudely, much too soon.

Lord, capture my tears in Your bottle, and hug Judy for me.  Tell her I can't wait to see her again, and help me to live wisely until that day.

He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young. -Isaiah 40:11

Monday, September 20, 2010

Putting aside idols

When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron.  "Come on," they said, "make us some gods who can lead us. We don't know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt." -Exodus 32:1

Even as Moses was receiving the law from the Lord's own hand, the Israelites were rebelling against God at the foot of the mountain.  

How is it, we ask, that the Israelites could witness God’s incredible salvation - the plagues of Egypt, ending with death; salvation at the Red Sea; manna and quail from heaven to meet daily needs - and still give up on Him and Moses, asking Aaron to build them a golden calf to worship?  These people have no memory.  Surely we would not make the same mistakes. 

But of course the story of God’s people is my story as well.  How often do I fail to trust in the Lord, instead trying to build other gods – security, writing, my husband, work – into my life and worship them?  Not that I actually bow down to them, but idol worship can also be defined as giving them more time and energy than I give the Lord, and taking sanctuary in them instead of in the Lord Most High.  I must confess that I do this far too often.

Lord, I need - we all need - Your help to (1) SEE when this is happening – please put Your finger on it and say, Beloved, THIS is what you are doing, taking refuge in these instead of in Me. 

Next, we need Your help to (2) STOP this from happening and rededicate ourselves to You. 

Then please help us (3) SEEK Your guidance and direction in giving these things proper place in our lives, in subjection to You.  You must always be supreme in my life, supreme over these things... because that is Your rightful place, and because only in putting You first can there be peace and order in my life.

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need. - Matthew 6:33, The Message

What idols compete with God for your time, money, and attention?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Jesus loves me

Last night I went to sleep reading Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel. Or at least the first few chapters of it, since that’s the size of the sample I downloaded to my Kindle.

Now I am going to have to buy the actual book because of its fresh perspective – actually, its fresh reminder – of the true message of the Gospel. As opposed to the message most of us think is the Gospel.

We Christians know that we are saved by God’s grace alone.  But most of the time, we live as though salvation depended on us.

Of course, that’s not the way we THINK we live.  Satan’s lies are much too subtle, because he knows if we saw them plainly we would recognize and reject them.

But when we "tsk" at the person who wears cutoffs and a tank top to a church service… when we feel a weight of guilt because we skipped prayer group and haven’t spent alone time in the Bible for a few days…when we are afraid to show our Christian friends who we truly are, but mask our struggles and our feelings and our hearts instead… we are living as if salvation depended on us, upon our good works. And that’s not the Gospel according to the Bible.

The message of the Gospel is not just good news. It’s great news. It’s the Best. News. Ever.

Even if I didn’t spend time in the Word this morning, or this week, or this year…
Jesus loves me.

When I lose my Mother of the Year award because I forgot to pick someone up from volleyball practice,
or played a computer game instead of doing the dishes,
or said things to my kids I swore I’d never say…
Jesus loves me.

When I choose to skip an opportunity to say something nice - or help someone who’s struggling -
just because I don't feel like doing the right thing,
Jesus loves me.

And He loves you too.

Even when you wear cutoffs and a tank top to church,
or a cuss word escapes from your lips,
or you’re just not sure about this Christianity thing,
or you’ve messed up so badly you are sure you can never be forgiven,
Jesus loves you.

How do I know? The Bible tells me so.

God demonstrates his love for us in this:
while we were still sinners,
Christ died for us.

-Romans 5:8, NIV

I love the way the Message says it:

God put his love on the line for us
by offering his son in sacrificial death
while we were of no use whatever to him.

The message of forgiveness and freedom through Christ is not just for those who don’t yet believe.

It’s also for the broken and discouraged and sinful ones who sit in the pew every Sunday. The ones who think, if you really knew me, you wouldn’t sit so close to me.

In Christ we are all truly free.  So when will we start living like it?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Our dreams or God's dreams?

"I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better
life than they ever dreamed of." - John 10:10 (The Message)

This week I've been going through boxes in our basement, trying to clean up a bit.  Some of those boxes belong to my oldest daughter, an Army lieutenant who will be home for a few days next month before her unit heads to Iraq.  I decided to work on her boxes now to save her some time and also because I know it will be much harder for me emotionally to do this after she deploys.

Jess is a prime example of how God's paths for our children can be so different than our own dreams for them.  A lifelong musician, she joined the local National Guard band in high school because she loved to play and wanted to earn money for college.  She left for basic training two days after graduating from high school.  I remember begging God for nine weeks to "please let her survive Basic!"  She had never been an athlete, wasn't in prime physical shape, and had never expressed interest in military service before then.

Jess not only survived Basic - she thrived.  To my amazement, she fell in love with Army life during those nine weeks.  After returning home, she was bored at college and one day found the website for the US Military Academy at West Point, NY.  She became determined to get into West Point, and she succeeded.  She even met her future spouse there - a fellow South Dakotan - and married Craig on graduation day.

Now she's a lieutenant in the medical services branch, stationed at Fort Hood, TX, and heading to Iraq in August for her first deployment.  Craig's unit is also being deployed, and they hope to be able to share a CHU (housing quarters) or at least see each other now and then.

This is not the life I would have chosen for Jess.  I would have chosen a life of music, spent close to home, close to me.  God chose a life of service to country for her, service to soldiers as a leader, a life far from me.  Though it will not be easy, especially when she is overseas and in harm's way, I know His choice is the better one.

I have watched Jess blossom and grow these past few years.  She loves her husband, and he treats her like a queen.  She loves her job (a good thing, since she works 14-hour days) and is a fierce advocate for the soldiers in her platoon.  She has seen places I only read about (Egypt, Vietnam, Thailand, France, and soon Iraq) and lived experiences I can scarcely imagine (20-mile foot marches, throwing hand grenades and shooting rifles, even skydiving with a free fall!).  And when we talk, I hear her enthusiasm, her passion for life.

As moms we want our kids to be safe, to take the easier way, free of pain and sacrifice.  It's in our nature.  But when the Lord tells them, "Come, take My hand, and see everything I have in store for you," would we really choose instead to clip their wings and hold them close to us?

I'd rather have my daughter love her life and live out her dreams than force her to live my dreams for her.  Because this way, even if she is taken from us by an enemy bullet or IED, at least she will have fully lived.

Lord, help us to pray daily for our kids.  And let us pray not for our will to be done in their lives, but for Your will to be done.  Help us tuck them softly, confidently into Your loving arms, knowing that they do not belong to us, but to You.  In Jesus's name, amen.