Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Phobia to Give to the Lord

Monophobia: The fear of being alone.

I think I have monophobia. Okay, not really. But sometimes I think I could. I really, really hate being alone. And in the words of Dr. Seuss, "Whether you like it or not, alone is something you'll be quite a lot!" No matter how hard I try to fill my day with friends, I'm still alone a good portion of the time.

"God is Near" by Rend Collective Experiment.

The last recorded words that Christ spoke while on this earth were, "I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20b). Here He reminds us that we are never, ever alone.

Just as the LORD was with the Israelites in the desert, He is with us now. "The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent." -- Exodus 14:14. God wanted the Israelites to know that it wasn't their battle to fight, but it was the LORD's. And that battle was fought and won at the Cross. As the Israelites looked forward to that, we now look back to the Cross and find our victory there.

It is through that victory that we have fellowship with the Lord. In Christ's sacrificial blood, we have a right standing before God: our criminal record (sins) have been washed clean. He now promises to never leave us or forsake us. Truly, we are never alone.

Sometimes my fear seems rather silly. I'm just a people person that needs to be with other people. But sometimes these fears are real, and we do feel as if we're all alone. You may be suffering through a trial, you may feel as though you have no direction in life, or you may be at a place where you do not have the fellowship that you desire, and you may feel alone. But know that God has said He will never leave you. Ever.

You are never alone. Cling to that promise today, whatever your circumstances may be.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"It all comes back... relationship."

A few weeks ago during my weekly small group, I jotted that statement down in my journal. I was thinking about Christianity, and how every bit of it comes back to relationship.

Relationship with Jesus. Relationship with Abba. Relationship with the Holy Spirit. Relationship with the Living Words of Christ. Relationship with our fellow believers. Relationship with unbelievers. Relationship with the Gospel.

Relationship is what keeps Christianity personal. And personal keeps us focused. Focused on the important things… Like relationship.

It all comes back to relationship.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Praise in Adversity

I love my son. I love his high-pitched squeals and "songs". I love his smile that takes up his entire face. I love his newly found sounds of "da-da-da" and "ba-ba-ba", along with other vowel/consonant combinations I cannot spell. That little man fills me with such joy! But I'll be honest, this last week when he and I were up at three in the morning for the sixth straight night, both tired of bulb syringes, I was not filled with joy. I was exhausted.

It's easy for us to accept the good things in life, isn't it? It's easy for us to praise God in the easy situations, in the times filled with joy. But it's a whole different story when trouble comes. Our joy turns to mourning. Our praise turns to questioning. Our thanks turns to doubt.

This morning as I drank a day-old cup of coffee and read over the first two chapters of Job, I was struck by something Job said to his wife. Everything but his life (and the life of his wife) was taken. His oxen. His sheep. His camels. His servants. His children. His health. And when his wife yells at him, telling Job to just to get it over with - to curse God and die - his response is startling:
"'Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?'" - Job 2:10
Shall we indeed. We love it when God blesses us. But what about when He sends trials? Not so much, eh?

We forget sometimes that God isn't surprised at the trials that come our way. We forget that He has a purpose in those trials. We forget that His goodness is not dependent upon our circumstances. We may even forget that He is with us during those difficult times.
"He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share in His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. . . He Himself has said, 'I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,' so that we confidently say, 'The LORD is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me? Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever." - Hebrews 12:10-11; 13:5-6, 8
I'm not saying that adversity is easy to take or that its weight isn't crushing. But in those moments of deep pain and utter darkness, may we do as Job turn and turn to the LORD. To the One who knows and understands our pain. To the One who deserves our praise and thanks no matter how strong the storm around us.
"Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.'" - Job 1:20-21

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Local Church

In the spirit of thankfulness, I'd like to share with you something which I am incredibly thankful for, and which has really improved my life.

It is a local, close-knit, family of fellow followers of Christ. I see them on Sunday and Tuesday. And often at least two other days of the week. I fit well with them. And this regular contact has greatly impacted my life. It keeps me accountable, focused, joyful, thankful, and growing.

My local church means more to me than I can put into words. Really.

I wish everyone had a church where they could show up feeling any way, and leave having been uplifted, by God's work through their fellow believers. I wish every church preached the Gospel clearly. I wish every church was looking to see how God could use them more. I wish every believer knew just how they could help their local church through the talents and abilities God has given them.

Oh wait, I was writing about thankfulness.... I'm thankful the local church I'm a part of, is those things for me. I pray your local church is those things for you! (And if it isn't, pray about how you can change it.)

Are you thankful for your local church?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Fig-less, Fruit-less and Crop-less

I'll be honest: this last weekend was probably one of the most difficult ones I remember having. On Thursday night, after sleeping for a mere 2-1/2 hours, my baby boy woke up with more snot in his nose than I ever imagined possible. Throughout the course of the night, Zeke was up every hour or so needing his nose suctioned. The following night, though not as full of fluid snot, Zeke as unable to sleep in his crib because he was so congested. Saturday night it appeared everything had drained from his little nostrils into his throat - and whether is was pain awaking him or something else, he was once again up every hour or so. To top it all off, I was single-parenting it for the weekend as Jordan (who was battling the same cold as his son) was committed to speak at a youth retreat in northern Minnesota. By Sunday, as you can probably imagine, this momma was pretty exhausted. 

Although those nights were difficult (and we're still not out of the woods), there was an inner strength holding me up. Friday morning, as I sipped my coffee, I read through tired eyes these verses of Scripture. They became the words that I clung to and repeated when I wanted to cry out of exhaustion:
"Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord GOD is my strength." - Habakkuk 3:17-19a
Do you know what it means to "exult" in something? It means to "show or feel a lively or triumphant joy; to rejoice exceedingly". That's pretty intense. Habakkuk describes a situation far worse than my own this past weekend - he is describing famine. No fruit on the trees or vines. No crops in the field. No cattle for meat. A desperate situation. And yet, a midst all those horrible, life-threatening situations, Habakkuk decides to rejoice. To rejoice exceedingly. To find joy in the God who had saved him. To find strength in the only One who had strength. 

Let's face it. There are times life is just plain going to suck. Things are not going to go our way. We are going to feel tired. We may feel hopeless. We might feel desperate. But we are not alone. There is One strong enough to hold us up during those difficult times. In Him we can rejoice because He gives us the strength we need - not all at once, but day by day. 

"When everything falls apart, Your arms hold me together. When everything falls apart, You're the only hope for this heart. When everything falls apart and my strength is gone, I find You mighty and strong. You keep holding on."

Monday, November 12, 2012

Let Him

If I ever went back to college, I think I'd get a degree in psychology. I have no idea what I'd do with it; I just like to try and figure people out. Like what made my brother-in-law Caleb decide to be a cat one day in school? Or what made him look in the freezer for a lost pair of shoes? There are other things I like to try and figure out too. Like why some days my son fights his naps and other days he quickly succumbs to sleep. Or why certain days he is excessively spitty more than others. But I've simply had to resign myself to the reality that I'll never have it all figured out; I'll never truly understand why people do what they do.

Sometimes we do that with God, don't we? We try to figure Him out. We try to decide why He does what He does. We try to determine why He allows certain events to happen. And I believe there are times when we believe we've got the Lord all figured out.

But we don't. And we never will.
"Oh, the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to Him again?" - Romans 11:33-35 
"The thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God." - 1 Corinthians 2:11
Take comfort in the fact that nothing escapes the Lord. He knows about your heartache. He knows about your pain. But maybe instead of trying to figure Him out, trying to decifer His reasoning and decisions -- maybe just let Him be God and let you be His child. Let Him hold your tears; let Him bring you strength; let Him be your joy.

I think that's what trust is all about: not having to know everything and simply leaning on the strength of the One who does.

Friday, November 9, 2012

built to be broken

this framework I've built needs to be broken.
rigid wall, when will you fall? open up to freedom!
safe inside, I've found a warm place to hide.
what lies out there? something more, I'm sure.
escape seems impossible. who will hold control?
work to accomplish. do to achieve.
strive to survive. prove my worth.
here the focus is clear; me. my. mine.
there the focus is clearer; we. us. ours.

this framework I've built needs to be broken.
what is in His will for us to inherit?
being known. being loved.
forgiveness. freedom.
grace that saves. relationships releasing weary working slaves.
it's an issue of the heart; this framework that sets us apart.
Father. Son. Holy Spirit. That voice inside - do we hear it?
Brother. Sister. Uncle. Aunt. It takes a village to raise a child.
Ask and receive? Seek and find? This new view is sure to be wild!

this framework I've built is being broken by God; only to be remade in His hands.

have you built a framework for your faith that needs to be broken?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Where is Your Focus?

"Your focus determines your lifestyle." --Pastor Steve Krier

I don't know about you, but it's really easy for me to focus on what lies directly in front of me. In my situation that involves where to go to school, what degree to get, who to date and marry, etc. It's easy to get caught up in planning the immediate future and striving to achieve those goals. My focus is set entirely on myself. However, we are called to have a different focus:
"Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." -- Colossians 3:2
Philippians 3 tells us that our citizenship is in heaven, and here Paul is reminding us of that fact. Paul lived with an eternal perspective, which is seen again here:
 "We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen as transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." -- 2 Corinthians 4:18  
In our flesh this is impossible. We're creatures of time, therefore everything goes in sequence. We're focused on the here and now. We're also driven to seek our best interests, so our motives are geared towards benefiting ourselves.

This is not about trying harder and doing better.

The joyful truth here is that this is something God gives us. We don't have to muster up an eternal perspective. We don't have to force ourselves to love others. God has the ability to change the heart, and He is able to change our focus as well. As we look to Him, He will change our focus, and in turn change our lifestyle. He will break our heart for what breaks His and give us love for that which He loves.

This video was shown at Campus Crusade this week and it broke my heart. Sometimes it's good to be broken though, because that leads us to God. And He's the only One that can change anything in our hearts.

Where is your focus?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Known & Loved

I believe every person has two desires in common with every other person. We all want to be known, and we want to be loved. But often we get scared, thinking, if people really knew us fully, they wouldn't love us. Can you relate? I certainly can. I often find myself thinking people won't appreciate me, like me, and especially not love me, if they could read all my thoughts, or see every attitude of my heart. And that may even be true to a point. 

But listen friend, there is One who knows you more completely than you could ever hope to know yourself, sees you for what you are, and loves you, despite His knowledge of you, more than you could ever hope to love yourself.

You are known and loved by the God of the universe. He knows every minute detail about you, including your sin. And He loves you completely, and unconditionally!

Rejoice in knowing, you are known and loved!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Wanting our Vote and Needing our Prayers

When I was younger, I loved getting to go into the voting booth with my mom and/or dad. There was something so cool about that private cubicle; something so mysterious about that large sheet of paper that held names I'd only heard of; something so empowering about those little dark circles next a few choice names that my parents let me see. No longer do I get to sneak into the voting booth with Mom or Dad; and unfortunately, here in western North Dakota, I don't even get to stride into a voting booth with my big adult self. Instead, I voted on an absentee ballot on my ordinary kitchen table; the same place that I eat pizza and laugh at my family.

I could say a lot about the election tomorrow. I could comment on how you're probably ready for the 2012 election to be over with. I could probably encourage you to use the blessed freedom we've been granted here in America.

But I'm not.

All I'm going to say tonight - all I am going to encourage you to do tonight - is to pray. Because really, truly, how often do we do that? We know that we should pray for those who are in authority over us. We know that authority has been given to us by God. We know in our hearts that praying for our government leaders - whether we like them or not - is important to do. But do we actually do it? I know I don't. What do you think would happen if we actually did?

"And what would happen if we prayed for those raised up to lead the way? Then maybe kids in school could pray and unborn children see light of day."
"First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority . . . " - 1 Timothy 2:1-2
Yes, vote. But after tomorrow, don't let all the hype about presidents, congressmen, and governors cease. Whoever is elected - whether you like them or not - come before the Lord daily on their behalf. These men and women want our votes . . . but they need our prayers.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

What to Wear (and where to get it!)

What if spiritual warfare looked less like guns and swords and more like depression, besetting sins, ungodly media, strained relationships, avoidance of the Word, church, and righteous fellowship, eating disorders, and pornography addictions? 

Satan is fighting to steal your hope and joy, kill your body, and destroy your faith. Are you prepared for such a battle? Let's take a quick look at Eph. 6.

1. Spiritual strength is found in Jehovah Shaddai (The All Sufficient & All Powerful One), not in ourselves. God must be your battery source--'charge up' with Him daily.

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his mightPut on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. Eph. 6:10, 11

We are challenged to put on His armor, not our own. Our self-made armor is insufficient (like Adam and Eve's fig leaves: insufficient). Look to Him for strength and covering.

2. We are engaged spiritual warfare--the devil wants your heart, soul, and mind. He wants the hours in your day, the words in your mouth, the thoughts in your mind. He wants you. 

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Eph. 6:12
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. I Pet. 5:8 
3. We have been given and weapons with which to fight.
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day...Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. I Pet.6:13-17 
This passage sticks to my bathroom mirror, reminding me of the spiritual battle I'm engaged in. Every morning I "pray on" the armor of God. (Ex: "O Lord, please place on me the belt of truth. Protect me from lies, and bring your Word to my mind when I am attacked....") As a teenager, I was challenged to make this a part of my daily routine. I encourage you to make this a habit for the next week and see what blessings it imparts!

4. Praying at all times in the Spirit. (vs 18)--
The power and importance of prayer cannot be overemphasized. When unrighteous emotions overwhelm--pray. When temptation presses hard--pray. When relationship tensions rise--pray. When faced with decisions--pray. At all times--pray.

As you fight today, may the Lord be your strength and His armor your protection. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Battle in the Midst of the Blood

War is not something that I'm fond of. In fact, I hate fighting altogether.

However, I've been learning a lot about spiritual warfare as of late (especially the sneaky form of it in temptation) and I'm aware that just because I don't like war doesn't mean I'm not in one at the moment. As a believer in Christ as my Savior, I have great opposition against me. I need to know what weapons to use when he attacks, so I turned to a war scene in the New Testament found in Revelation 12. The results of the war say,
"And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death." -- Revelation 12:11 
They fought with two things: the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony. And they overcame! In the same manner, we can overcome Satan and all of his attacks in our life with the same weapons.

The blood of the Lamb -- Christ's blood on the cross. This blood was required by God, but it was supposed to be mine. It was supposed to be your's. It was required as payment for our sins, for there is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). The Lamb -- Christ -- was perfect. Spotless. Without sin. Therefore, His sacrifice stood on behalf of every sinner. This blood is now our's!

The word of their testimony -- the Gospel! Spurgeon says, "If ever we are to conquer Satan in the world, we must preach the atoning blood." In this battle, Satan was overcome by the truth. In a similar instance, Christ was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, and as Satan twisted Scripture, Christ retaliated with the Word of God in truth and Satan was defeated. The good news of Christ is our's to hold onto when times of doubt arise in our minds, but also to proclaim as a shield in the face of our opponents.

Friends, as followers of Christ, you are in a battle. Satan is crafty and temptation is subtle, but we have weapons to fight with. As a believer, the blood of Christ is your's. You do not stand guilty before the throne of God. Without the blood you would be condemned and forced to pay the penalty yourself, but as you receive that free gift of Salvation by faith, His blood has washed over you. In the words of Pastor Haugen, "always and continually"! For each and every sin, the blood still washes. Also, the Word of God is your's. God has given us His Word as a sword, and we can cling to the promises that it holds when the deceiver sends darts of lies our way.

And always remember, the fight has already been won!