Friday, April 26, 2013

Wow, we get to stay!!!

We've had our house on the market for about 5 months and in about another month, Keith was going to have to start his new position in Raleigh. A few days ago, Keith came home and told me that his boss called and told him that the guy in Georgia just resigned. They offered Keith the position here instead of moving us to Raleigh. I was stunned! The scripture that came to mind was... "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." I wonder if that's because when you delight yourself in Him, you desire His will above your own because you trust He always has your best at heart, even when you can't see it. 

When Keith was initially considering the job in Raleigh and we were praying about it, it seemed crazy to take a job for less money and uproot our whole family and move away, but in another way, it seemed crazy not to take it because Keith was so unhappy and overworked in his current job. I remember laying in bed one night and told Keith, "I think you should take it". He said, "Why?" I said, "Because when I pray, the thing that keeps coming to my mind is, 'What would love do?' And I know what love would do in this situation. It would lay down it's life for another." I told him he's always been the one to sacrifice for the good of the family, it's time we sacrifice for his good. I felt complete peace after that and never looked back. I told Keith last night that the story of Abraham willing to sacrifice Isaac keeps coming to mind. That's kind of what this feels like... When you trust God and are willing to sacrifice, there is always blessings beyond what you could ask or imagine that He throws your way... Keith ended up getting a job he loves, we don't have to move, and he's actually making more money than he was before. God is good!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Are we our brothers keepers?

"I don't know, said Cain, Am I my brothers keeper?" That was Cain's flippant response to God after he killed his brother. God had asked Cain, "Where is Able?" And Cain threw it back in God's face like, "Why are you asking me? I'm not his keeper, you are." He was trying to keep God at bay with his temper. Today we misquote that scripture and say, "Aren't we our brothers keeper?",  as though that is something God asked us to do.

Gal 6:1 says, "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted." I guess I always read that scripture and assumed that I should be my brother's keeper and he should be mine. I felt I had a responsibility to address every sin when I saw it. But there was always a yuk factor in that for me. I felt like I was rushing ahead and forcing an uncomfortable conversation. I thought I was doing God a favor and protecting them from his wrath as I used shame and fear to manipulate them to repent.

But God has been revealing his grace to me and walking me into a much different space. Someone close to me recently revealed some sin she was involved in and is not sure she wants to repent. I listened and felt no judgement at all, only compassion. My heart simply broke for her and the others whom her sin was hurting. I loved her deeply in the midst of her sin and was able to be honest and gentle with her. This time it felt very right because my sharing came from a place of deep love for her and the others involved. As I begin to see God's generous grace extended toward me, that grace naturally flows through and onto others. I think we sometimes forget that after the resurrection, grace took the place of the law.

Many prefer the law because it gives the illusion of control. We think without the law, what would keep our sin in check? God says that love is more powerful. The law doesn't affect the heart, it knows no compassion. Grace wraps it's arms around us when we are missing the mark, and gently aims us in the direction of life. Grace is patient and long suffering. The law is in a hurry to clean up the messy exterior, but neglects the heart where true and lasting change occurs. The law makes us relationally challenged. We try to obey it and force ourself to share our faith or confront sin. Grace teaches us to love everyone in our path and allows the spirit to lead.

I recently heard a story about a woman who used to be a prostitute and became a christian. She continued to wear her prostitute clothes, not even realizing it, when she would get together with the women for a bible study. The women in her life didn't feel the burden of setting her straight. Their focus was to help her know the God of amazing grace. They gave her space to heal and grow and left space for the spirit to work in her life. Seems to me that's how God does things with me, he doesn't tackle all my issues at once and overwhelm me, but reveals one layer at a time. As they loved her without condition, she was freed up to hear the spirit whisper to her. She trusted that these women loved her and it allowed her to feel safe enough to open herself up to their influence. One day she noticed what some of the other women were wearing and looked down at her own clothes and said, "Are my clothes inappropriate?" When the spirit brought this to the surface for her, she invited the women she trusted to weigh in on the matter.

Jesus is the head of his church. He knows how to lead it, it's up to us to follow him. He left us his spirit to guide us, not a religious system full of rules and obligations. Are we listening? We often place more emphasis on following our interpretation of scripture rather than walking with Him. I believe all scripture is God-breathed, but only God is infallible. All truth is only found in Him, not in any one man or any particular religious system. We forget that all scripture points to Him, not the other way around. The Spirit is someone I neglected far too long. The brand of religion I embraced emphasized listening to and following man and his fallible interpretation of scripture over listening to the Spirit. I thought listening to the spirit was just following your feelings and emotions. I believe God gave us one another to walk alongside, but He gave us his Spirit to walk with daily to lead us through this life. His spirit guides, directs, and reveals things to us to protect us from harm and to point us toward a full life.  

The bible says, "My sheep will hear my voice".  Some people refer to that voice as their conscience or a nudge. I notice when I feel the yuk factor, that may be a sign for me to take a step back, and pray. Now, when the spirit blows, I listen. I want to respond to his nudges and surrender to him. He whispers ever so gently to my soul. Like ignoring the oil light in the car when it comes on, we often ignore his nudges and find ourselves trying to run the show... often right into the ground. When I override the spirit, I often later think, "Why didn't I listen?" God is our keeper. He invites us to walk with Him and alongside each other as we encourage one another to look to Him, who is Life.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Religion vs. Relationship

I grew up in a loving christian home. As I entered those late teen years, I began tasting the world a bit and quickly found out just how bitter it really tasted. Many of the temporary pleasures I sought to fill me came with some pretty painful consequences. Little by little as I neglected my conscience, I found myself further and further from the kind of person I wanted to be. It felt like my life was being drained out of me. I desperately tried to satisfy the hunger in me,  but with all the wrong things. I felt like I was digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole and I didn't know how to get out. It began to dawn on me that I could not do this thing called life on my own, so I decided to turn to God by opening up my "Kings James" bible. I quickly got frustrated because I didn't understand the language. Finally, one night, I was sitting in a dark room crying and I cried out to God and said, "Where are you? I can't see you or hear you? How am I supposed to follow you?" The next day I was at work and a stranger invited me to a bible study. At the same time, my great grandmother began sending me little scriptures she cut out of the Billy Graham section of the newspaper. God heard, and he sent. 

I began to get to know Jesus through the scriptures and through walking along side others who looked to father to guide them. I found my own personal faith in a loving father who offered to save me from destroying myself and those I loved with my sin. He showed me a better way to live. He invited me to walk with him through this life and on into the next. That is salvation, a relationship we are invited into with our loving father/creator who died to save us from our sin and wants to help us navigate our way through this dark world and carry us into the next. 

Over time however, religion began to replace my relationship with Jesus. I began to notice a gnawing ache that wouldn't go away. I felt like I was missing my best friend. But how could I, I was going to church at least 2 times a week, tithing, praying, reading my bible, serving people, confessing my sin, sharing my faith... all the things I was supposed to do to get to heaven. Somewhere along the line, I stopped following Jesus and began following a list of rules and rituals in order to appease a scary God. I had been set free from sin, but felt enslaved more than ever by obligation. When did this happen? When did my loving rescuer become a scary task master? Jesus offered me salvation by inviting me to walk with him through this life and on into the next, but religion told me that salvation was a "get out of hell free card, if I would just jump through all the right hoops". It told me that God was too holy to be with me in my disgusting sin and couldn't bear to be near it. It said, I had better repent if I wanted to be with him. 

Jesus told me that he did bear my sin, on the cross. He covered my shame, so I never have to feel shame again. He fixed it so that nothing could keep me from coming to him, not sin nor shame. I am free to bring it all to him as I wrestle with it. He can show me the way out and heal and restore me. He loves and accepts me without condition and walks with me through all the dark places in this broken world and invites me to surrender to his loving guidance so he can walk me out of the pain and destruction that sin causes and show me true life.  Religion disfigured God and made him scary. It made me want to run and hide from my best friend. It told me I could save myself by doing all the right things. I went from the slavery of sin, to the freedom of walking with my loving father, and then back into slavery again, but this time the yoke around my neck was religion. 

Praise God that he heard me cry out to him once again. He never left my side, but continued to gently whisper for me to come back to him so he could set me free. Oh how I love the freedom of simply walking with my dad. I'm on a journey with my eyes fixed on Him, walking toward Him. I haven't arrived. I don't claim to have all truth, it's only found in Him. As I seek to know Him, He continues to reveal just how beautiful He really is. The good news is so much better than I realized. My fallen nature tells me His grace is too good to be true. But with God, what seems too good to be true actually is true!