Monday, November 25, 2013

Grateful Before Its Gone

I don't know what it means, by actual definition, to "throw your back out". But I may have done that last Thursday afternoon. If it wasn't "thrown out", my lower back was definitely stretched and strained to the point of extreme pain in a way I hope to never endure again. The problem is, sometimes I forgot that I'm a) pregnant and therefore my body is already stretching and pulling in all sorts of different directions; and b) that even if I wasn't pregnant, it's never a good idea to hold a 24-pound weight on one side of your body while leaning down in the opposite direction to lift a nearly 10-pound purse. The result? I walked around with an ice pack stuck in my pants and could barely stand up straight due to the pain in my lower back.

I never really realized how vital the use of my back is to every day, ordinary actions. Like rolling over in bed. Like being able to sit on the floor and change my son's diaper. Like putting on a pair of pants.
After last week's incident, I realized how often I forget to be grateful.
And so often, I think we all forget. We get so used to what we have, with the people that we are blessed with in our lives, that we begin to take it all for granted. It seems like, more often than not, we become grateful for something only after it's gone.

As you celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I encourage you not to forget. To not just take a moment to thank the Lord for the "big" things, the "obvious" things, the "generalized" things. But take a moment to consider the little ones, the less-noticed blessings. For the fact that the furnace is working. For being able to roll over in bed without pain. For the blessing of hearing laughter. For fridges to store that abundance of leftovers in. For the inventor of disposable diapers. For soft toilet paper. For electric mattress pads.

And whatever you do, don't just be thankful on Thursday. On Friday, as you brave the Black Friday crowds or pull out your Christmas tree or simply enjoy the presence of family, remember to thank Him. Because all good things, all blessings, come from Him. And we have so many reasons to be thankful.
"Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting. Give thanks to the God of gods, for His lovingkindness is everlasting. Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for His lovingkindness is everlasting." - Psalm 136:1-3, NASB

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Beauty in the Word "Yet"

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places.

YHWH. God of the Covenant. God of Promise. Though nothing is going well, still I will rejoice in the LORD. Still I will hope in Him, because He is my joy and my strength, and He has promised. 

These words were written by Habakkuk. This book amongst the Minor Prophets begins with a dialogue between the prophet and God, as Habakkuk complains and despairs about the state of God's people. The book is sprinkled with gems such, "the righteous shall live by faith" and "for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea". 

Habakkuk was from Judah. The last spiritual leader that the nation had was King Josiah, and since then the people were just as wicked as the northern part of Israel. Habakkuk was crying out to God to bring justice and mercy to the land once more, but God was going to do it in a surprising fashion. God declared that He was going to use another wicked nation to bring judgement upon Judah.

What I love about this book is the message, "whatever happens, praise God". Chapters 2 and 3 continue with retellings of the Lord's vengeance and judgement, but ends with such sweet hope. No matter what, I will praise Him. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Living in the Mundane

My days are fairly predictable. I can roughly tell you what time Zeke and I will be out for our morning walk and down for our afternoon nap. I usually do my grocery shopping on Mondays after lunch. I can tell you what days I typically do laundry. Day-to-day, my life tends to look extremely similar. Sure, there are days with a few surprises, like when my husband decides to be spontaneous and come home from work early. Or like last week when Zeke pooped out his diaper for the first time in months and I had to rinse his pants off in the toilet. Or when I'm able to grab coffee with a dear friend back for a short visit.

Yesterday, though, I broke the mold. I skipped my morning walk, left the men at home and headed to Bismarck to run a few errands. (I know, I know: real exciting. But hey, I live in western North Dakota; cut me some slack.) As I was driving across the familiar 79-mile stretch of farmland, I did something I rarely do: I listened to the radio. Family Life Today was on, and my apologies to the name of their guest whose name is lost on my mind somewhere on I-94. And actually, apologies to Family Life Today as I hardly even recall what the broadcast topic was about. Something about loving your spouse. I forget because of something that forgotten guest said that rang over and over and over in my mind:
"We only make three or four big decisions in life. But we live in the every day, in the mundane."
It's so easy to seek Christ in the big decisions, the big issues. Where we should go to college. Who (or if) we should get married. To take that job far from family or stay closer to home.

But what about the every day? The ordinary, mundane things? Jesus doesn't want just a part of the "big" things in life - He wants the little ones too.

Not that I need to pray about switching my laundry day. Or that there is anything wrong with a fairly predictable routine. But in those every day, mundane, day-to-day tasks, who am I living for? Am I living selfishly, putting my desires over those of my families? Do I have eyes of compassion for the hurting around me, or am I to focused on me to notice them? Am I content with what I have, with who the Lord has made me to be, or am I envious of that other mom who seems to have it made?
"For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another." - Galatians 5:13, 24-26, NASB (emphasis mine)
It is in the mundane moments that I choose to put Jordan's needs over my own. It is the every day moments that become Kingdom teaching moments for little Ezekiel. It is in the ordinary moments that I live for the Extraordinary One.
"For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf." - 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, NASB (emphasis mine)
No matter how ordinary, how everyday, how mundane our daily tasks may seem to be, may we ever be guilty of living for Jesus.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Shadows Behind the Sunrise

6:28AM comes early, but welcomed. I live right on Lake Victoria -- the source of the Nile River. My room has a balcony and bay windows that allows the sunshine to stream into my yellow room for the twelve hours that we have daylight here. It's strange living on the equator. Every morning the sunrise wakes me up. Every morning, I'm so thankful for the sunshine.

When my days are filled with extreme poverty, illness, despair, and death, sometimes I wonder what's going on. Usually life here is not unlike life in America -- everyone has struggles but everyone survives with a smile -- but today was hard. My closest friends are struggling to find food and have succumbed to picking through the trash bins to find scrapes of leftovers. That hurt today.

Sometimes I think of the lyrics from the old Switchfoot song,

Oh Lord, why did You forsake me?
Oh Lord, don't be far away
Storm clouds gathering beside me
Please Lord, don't look the other way

The title of this song is The Shadow Proves the Sunshine. He doesn't look the other way; He doesn't forsake; and He's not far away. In the days when I question why so often, I'm reminded that God is still good.

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose." -- Romans 8:28

But what about my friends that don't love God? Is God punishing them? Does God not love them? I have days when I honestly question this. But a quiet voice calls me back to that oh so familiar verse,

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." -- John 3:!6

In this way, God loved the world. Not America. Not parts of Africa. But the world. His love is still there for them, and it's still there for me. Sin entered the world a long time ago, and hasn't left yet. Injustice is present because sin is present, but mercy and grace are also here because God has not left us.

"O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and You will not hear? Or cry to you, "Violence!" and You will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me, strife and contention arise." Habakkuk 1:2-3

The LORD's answer: "Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told."

So on days when you question all the wrong, remember that the shadow proves the sunshine. Without the knowledge of right, we'd have no understanding or ability to claim something as wrong. The wrong points us back to what we know is right -- Jesus. We have no other standard.

The theme of my time in Uganda has been, "The Lord knows. God cares. And He loves them more than I do." God knows your suffering. You have not gone unnoticed.

"Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of His inheritance? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea." -- Micah 7:18-19

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Why? Why? & What's Next?

Why we started?

In 2010, Naomi Andrews forwarded an idea at AFLC Youth Ministries, “What if young adults blogged together on their faith and experiences?” Grounded 3.17 was born!

The focus of these seven authors with one goal was not to remove their voices of influence from their current spheres, but to enhance the conversation going on among young adults about four major areas: relational, situational, congregational, and devotional.

It’s no secret that young adults are seeking to understand their opportunities and influence in a changing culture inside and outside the local church. G3.17 was seen as a tool to foster the conversation for healthy conclusions.

Why we ended?

Over 50,000 page views and 750 posts later, AFLC Youth Ministries has concluded that it is time for G3.17 to conclude.

The sunset date will be December 23, 2013.

We draw this blog to a conclusion because it is time to release our authors to pursue other avenues of writing (which some already have) and influence (which all of them have).

The goal of G3.17 was never to create a community, but one has taken shape. We pray that the encouragement and insights here will impact the authors and the 50 plus followers to press forward in their walk with Jesus.

What’s next?

We pray more writing, more encouragement, and more influence by God’s people through God’s Word & God’s Spirit.

Look at this timing as a way to propel all of us forward to other endeavors. G3.17 stretched and filled. It brought mediation on truths and motivation in lives. This blog is a success!

The theme verses reflect this reality: “So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

What will you pursue next?

Monday, November 11, 2013

What a Difference the Son Makes

Today was the coldest day we've seen yet in Beulah this fall. When Jordan, Ezekiel and I set out for our morning walk it was a chilly 10 degrees. Some may call us crazy, stubborn, or dedicated - but I absolutely love that four-mile morning walk. Sometimes I'd even say I need that walk. And ya know what? 10 degrees today didn't actually feel that bad. The sun was shining, the sky was clear, and the wind was virtually non-existent.

It's amazing what a difference the sun makes.

If today had been cloudy, the sun hidden, and the wind howling - it would have been a miserable 10 degrees. And I can pretty much guarantee you, that for the sake of my 18-month old bundled in the stroller, I probably wouldn't have gone the entire four miles.

It's amazing what a difference the sun makes.

And what a difference the Son makes. 

I love that, even though, as believers, our lives aren't all sunshine and daisies and summer days, the Son is still there.

I love that, although Jesus promised that we would have trouble in this world, the Son Himself has overcome the world.

I love that, no matter the howling wind and bitter storms going on in life, the Son is always present.

He may seem absent. He may seem hidden. He may seem like He'll never be seen again.

But He isn't. 
"Thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel,
'Do not fear, 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 through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, you Savior . . .'" - Isaiah 43:1-3, NASB (emphasis mine)

What hope we have as believers! Though the trials, the pain, the suffering, the heartache come - we do not experience them alone. We do not fight alone. We do not weep alone.

What a difference the Son makes.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Prepare Yourselves!!

Come. What an inviting word! I love that Jesus bids us come.

"Yet you did not return to me" are words repeated five times in Amos 4. There is a sense of longing disappointment in the voice of the LORD in these words.

"Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!" Amos 4:12b.

Can you imagine the terror those words would bring to the people of Israel? God has just declared the faithlessness of the Israelites and how, no matter how God called them back to Himself, they refused to be humbled and seek Him. "Seek Me and live" are seen twice in the next chapter, words that promise life. But these words bring destruction. I imagine a booming thunderous voice when I read verse 12.

So many times when I read this verse I think of the fear and dread that the Israelites must have experienced, but often forget about those living today that are waiting that same end. God has faithfully pursued His children, but they have repeatedly rejected Him. Here in Uganda, in Brazil, in America: everywhere. That same destruction is promised to those who refuse the gift of salvation. Prepare to meet your God!

And yet these words also bring comfort and joy to the believer. They were declared to an unfaithful nation and pronounced death, but to the one who believes on the Lord for His grace and life, it is a statement that I find joy in. I do not have to do anything to prepare to meet my God, because Jesus did it for me. I don't have to clean my act up, rid myself of sin, and present myself as a perfect offering, because Jesus already was. As I trust in Him for my right standing with God, I'm perfect and ready to meet my God. What joy that meeting will bring!!

But for those who have no hope, this statement brings tears to my eyes. God does not delight in bringing destruction and death, for it is His will that all men be saved (1 Tim 2:4). But the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a).

This is not to scare you into heaven, or bring fear in order to motivate the believer to witness to those around them. This is an honest view of what it means to meet the Lord. I'm not moved to share the Word of God with my friends because I'm fearful of them going to hell, but I love them enough to want them in heaven with Jesus, with me.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Because of Him, we're Debt Free

I'm going to brag on my husband a little bit. Because I know he won't. Last week, Jordan submitted our last mortgage payment. We are now complete owners of our little home! And it only took him a little over five years to pay it all off.

Even though this is a pretty exciting - and big - deal, when I asked Jordan how he felt about being debt free, he just shrugged and said it didn't feel much different. Maybe it's because we didn't call Dave Ramsey and shout "We're debt free!" over the air waves. Or because, as of yet, we haven't gotten a certificate from the bank congratulating us on not owing them any more money. Whatever the case may be, Jordan's been rather quiet sharing the news - even with his family.

And as I thought about this on the way home from a couple hours' work this afternoon, I couldn't help but think how quiet I am about being debt-free. Not about being mortgage-payment debt free - I think I've told more people than Jordan has. But about being sin-payment debt free.
"When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." - Colossians 2:13-14, NASB (emphasis mine)
As believers, we have been forgiven the ultimate debt. Our sins has been totally and completely wiped clean. Gone. Remembered no more. And yet, sometimes - often times - we're quiet about it.
Our lives, our eternal future, has been ultimately changed and we don't tell a soul. 

I could list a whole bunch of "maybe's" here, but I won't. Because excuses are lousy. They temporarily justify but don't cause change or warrant any action on our part.

And to be honest, there is no excuse for our lack in sharing the greatest news ever told. 

So let's change that. Let's start sharing the incredible news of God's forgiveness. That God so loved the world He sent Jesus to die in our place on our behalf. That although we will still have trouble in this world, we can cling to the One who has overcome the world.

That because of Him, not because of anything we have done or earned, we are debt-free.