Monday, December 2, 2013

The Kingdom of God is not a democracy

If Jesus is Lord, like so many people casually say, that would mean that those who serve Him, truly serve Him.  "Lord" and "King" imply that we are dealing with a monarch, an ultimate ruler who not only expects obedience, but demands obedience as protector of His realm.

But what American has the least concept of living under a true and absolute monarchy?  Isn't that what we fought our revolution to be freed from?  We think of absolute rule as equivalent to tyranny, dictatorships, injustice, virtual slavery.  It's in our blood to reject the thought of giving anyone absolute power over us.

As wonderful as it was, the independence we won in 1776 has had an unexpected by-product over two hundred years: the loss of respect for our true King.  We have become a people that has an innate sense of cynicism towards leadership of any kind, and feel it is our duty to "punish" leaders who do not conform to our wants.  This of course is the bedrock of democracy, a great right that we will defend to the end.  But try to transfer that attitude towards God and you destroy your faith, breaking the bond with the Lord you claim to serve.  The Kingdom of God is not a democracy - it's an absolute monarchy.

A true subject treats his King with unwavering respect.
The wishes of the King are not to be questioned, but obeyed.
Whatever his King requires, he gives, and considers it a privilege.
If an enemy threatens the Kingdom, a true subject considers that enemy his own.
Sacrifice, servanthood and even death for the sake of His King is a high honor.

I know… these statements make you squirm, right?  They smack of injustice, don't they?  But that's because we have never known a GOOD King, who loves us and who is PERFECT!  It makes complete sense to obey God without question, because He is good and perfect.  He is God, and will never fail us or harm us, even when we don't understand what is going on at the moment.  If it feels we are blindly following Him into the dark and over the edge of a cliff, we can trust that He will not only catch us, but lovingly lift us to a higher plane.  But we'll never get there without obedience.

Is there any equivalent to that form of extreme servitude that exists in our modern culture?  Nothing close, which is why (in my opinion) modern Americans have no idea how to live out their claims that "Jesus is Lord."  Church goers have no sense of shame to worship God on a Sunday morning and then indulge in gossip and backstabbing when they get home, as if the wishes of their King are meaningless.  Promises made by their Lord to protect and heal them if they live in submission to Him, are disregarded because they feel that submission is too demeaning.  To add insult to injury, they then criticize their "Lord," accusing Him of not caring because their demands aren't fulfilled to their satisfaction.

Jesus proclaimed, "The Kingdom of Heaven has come!"  The question is, do you want to live in His Kingdom?  Then serve as His subject.  The Kingdom of God is not a democracy.  Get used to it.


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Brutal faith

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.  But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:3-5)

Paul wrote this to Timothy 2000 years ago, but I'd say that we're living in that time right now.  Conventional wisdom demands that we never tell anyone to break out of their comfort zone, it's so insensitive.  Never rebuke, challenge, or even suggest sacrifice.  It's just not politically correct.

God's principles state:
Spiritual forces manipulate this world, and fallen angels that were cast out of heaven millennia ago, are still at work on this earth today in real and tangible ways.

Conventional wisdom dictates:  Healing and the casting out of demons "were for then, not for now."  We live in a modern world.  Any talk of demons is silly and medieval.  If we stretch our imaginations to believe that it may exist today, it must exist on a very philosophical level, nothing concrete as our daily lives.

God's principles state: My Word is living and active.

Conventional wisdom dictates: The Bible is negotiable.

God's principles state: Lose your life, sacrifice yourself to God, become His slave, and you will find it.

Conventional wisdom dictates:  Believe, but don't lose yourself.

God's principles state: Unless you hate your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even your own life—you cannot be My disciple

Conventional wisdom dictates:  Family first.

God's principles state:  The honor and worship of tradition over the honor and worship of God is idolatry.

Conventional wisdom dictates:  Anyone who breaks traditions, especially those cloaked in religious overtones, is being hateful and such a person is tantamount to a reprobate.

Anyone who says that Jesus is all about love and kindness, knows only half the story.  The love and kindness of God is only fully available to those who are ready to wage war against evil - even at the risk of losing their family or their lives.  The path to God's love and kindness begins in loneliness and sacrifice, but the power and authority that is imbued to those who go through it is priceless.

True Christianity is radical Christianity.  True faith is brutal.  And the true results are love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

This thing about intelligent faith

We recently finished a monthlong series of classes on negativity here in Katy with over 100 people in attendance. I learned so much about myself, my faith and the subtle ways that negative thoughts were sabotaging me.  Though I've known God for years, I'm still learning. I love learning!

Whenever I counsel someone at church, as I verbalize the advice I give them and go through the tools that we teach about, I am also speaking to myself.  I feel God opening my eyes to what I need to put into practice.  When you give out of faith, you always get a greater return, and I have found that to be true on a daily basis.  The negativity course was great because it pushed me to think in different ways, approaching faith in different angles.

But strangely enough, a number of traditional Christians, (who would rather die than consider themselves traditional) saw these classes as having nothing to do with "real faith."  In their mind, real faith means singing loudly, clapping their hands, being involved in lots of activities, shouting amen at the preaching, and putting on an air of busy Christianity.  To them, a course like Negativity 101, is just filling minds with information.

These are their unspoken assumptions:

1. Calm, rational learning is weakness.
2. Loud aggressive action is strength.
3. People do not need more knowledge
4. People just need to do what they're told and don't ask too many questions

Negativity 101 was created to stimulate intelligent faith, to get people to fight against their problems and reject the evil in their lives, and to know God.

Doesn't faith begin with our reason?  Doesn't faith begin with rational decisions to believe in the impossible, and only then take bold and risky actions?  If faith is meant to be intelligent, then it only makes sense to start with our thoughts and move on from there.

Of course not everyone is the same.  Some people can get overwhelmed with large amounts of information, while others just drink it up and are thirsty for more.

Our courses are meant for the drinkers, the thirsty, the ones who want to get down to the nitty gritty of how to live, to act, to decide, to choose what is right.  Drinkers need answers and to feel free to ask questions. But once they've grasped it, there's no stopping them.  They know what they believe, and can answer anyone who tries to challenge their faith, because they have grappled with their doubts and overcame.

Saying that learning is just "fluff," is like saying Jesus' parables were just fairytales. If true faith is intelligent, it's worth the effort to dig deep and lay that foundation from where radical actions of faith
can be launched, like spiritual ICBMs.  Don't know what an ICBM is?  Look it up!

Knowledge + action = miracles.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Rewire Your Mind

Negativity 101, a course of 12 sessions over 33 days, offered only at Succeed in Life Center, Katy TX. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Negativity 101

What do you think is the biggest open door for problems in people's lives? Negativity.  It's the starting point for doubt, lies, hatred, depression, unbelief, worry, abuse, addictions, defeat, you name it.  The devil has found such a cornucopia of ways to use it to his advantage - it's just that good of a tool in his hands.  Find it thriving among good-hearted Christians, and just as much among hard-core God-haters. It can morph into so many forms and be equally as deadly to our spirit.

The course to beat it is coming up in our church at SiLC - only in Katy, TX, and will blow you away.  Read all about it at I'm not being proud about it, just not being negative!

Check out just how much our folks at the Katy SiLC are into getting out the news about the course.  Here we are handing out flyers at the local Walmart this weekend, roasting a bright pink in the Texas sun, and having a lot of fun!!

And enjoy one of our videos:

Friday, September 27, 2013

The prophet that makes me laugh and learn

I would love to have met Elijah in person.  He was a tough go-getter, fearless to face down a bloodthirsty queen and her pack of Baal worshipping priests.  That story of fire from heaven is one of my favorites.  But Elijah had his weaknesses, just like the rest of us.

After the fiery standoff with the Baal worshippers, he was riding on an emotional high.  He had been a part of two amazing miracles (fire from heaven and rain after a famine), a slaughter of the prophets of Baal, and a victory for God under his belt, all in just one day.  But Jezebel the queen acted just as arrogant and hell-bent on killing Elijah.  So he ran miles away and hid in a cave and wanted to die.  What??

After all that amazing power manifested by God through Elijah’s faith, how could one woman turn him into such a weakling?  Emotionalism – that’ll do it every time.  Ride high on your emotions, and you can count on being tossed into the dirt face-down soon enough.  Elijah had forgotten that his trust was in God, not in his ability to convince Jezebel to back down or repent.

I love what came after that.  The Bible says that God told him to come out to the edge of the cave and stand in the Lord’s presence:

“At that moment, the Lord passed by. A great and mighty wind was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
Suddenly, a voice came to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”  (1 Kings 19:11-13.

We all want to see the spectacular, the amazing, the stupendous earthshaking experience and say, “Wow, look at what God is showing me!”  But God wasn’t interested in talking to Elijah through any of that.  It was that soft whisper; that still small voice that asked, “Hey Elijah, what are you doing here?” It makes me laugh every time I read it!

Elijah went on to give God a slightly exaggerated sob story about how he was the only one left who loved him, and as always, God was so gracious and wise.  He didn’t pity him, and He didn’t rebuke him, just gave him a mission to go and anoint a new king and prophet and to know that there are thousands of others who still do love Him.  “Now go!” He said.

So the solution to Elijah’s depression and self-pity was:

Stop being emotional
Stop worrying about convincing people to listen to you
Calm your self-centered feelings so you can hear His voice
Get up and DO what you know He wants

The moral of the story?  God speaks to us all the time.  ALL the time.  Yet we have the dullest, deafest ears to hear him because we are so attracted to special effects.  Whatever exciting shiny thing appears before our eyes, we want to stare at it.  Whatever gripping emotion settles into our hearts, we want to dwell on it – even if it’s destructive.  And of course the devil is more than happy to dress up all his temptations like a Hollywood set, with lots and of fancy emotions and imagery.  Meanwhile God says, “Go, do what you know I want, and that’s when you’ll see my power.”

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Unstoppable: the Christian movie meant to answer life's tough questions

Advertised as a movie that “answers some of life’s most difficult questions about suffering and explores the victory of the Gospel throughout history,” we couldn’t help but be curious to see Kirk Cameron’s “Unstoppable” production that aired live simultaneously in 700 movie theaters around the US on Tuesday night. In his trailer, Cameron stated that he had traveled across the country, and had gone through an emotional and spiritual “meat grinder” searching for answers.

Dave and I both grew up in traditional protestant churches and are more than familiar with the reasoning Christians offer of why good people suffer.  I asked questions like this so many times in my own life…why can’t I be healed, what’s wrong with my faith, are you punishing me God, don’t you even care, why does life have to hurt so bad? I asked and asked and sought for answers, and the ones my Christian friends and counselors came up with were vague and philosophical. I had to conclude that nobody knew the answer, that I was supposed to hold on to God for dear life, and when I died and went to heaven, it would all make sense.  God was still good, God still loved me, God was still in control, even when depression and fear were swallowing me into a bottomless pit.  I was wrong to demand or expect anything from the perfect all-knowing God who chose to leave me hanging by a thread, because somehow it was all good for me.  That was the best anyone could offer me then – and that was all the “Unstoppable” movie had to offer as well.

Since the live showing at 7pm was sold out earlier in the day, we found a cinema in a neighboring town that would air it again at 9:45, so we planned for a late night.  The late showing wasn’t packed out, but a good number of good Christian Texans filed in and patiently waited as the movie technician tried to figure out how to fast forward the recording to the beginning of the show.  His ineptness was funny and exasperating as the audience started to shout, “No, no, more, more!” and “Stop! No further back! No! Keep going!”  It finally got under way half an hour late, and we were already tired.

The movie that claimed to grapple with earth-shaking themes, began with a whimper.  Cameron appeared onscreen and introduced two guys with personalities as exciting as their grey suits.  We discovered we had to endure a long monotone speech by the president of Liberty University, the film’s sponsor and host, on the wonders of his institution. It even looked like some of their student film projects got to be a part of the production, adding to an amateurish feel to the show. I felt like getting up and leaving at that point, but the tickets were too expensive and we had committed to seeing the whole thing.

Next a variety show began with the singer Mandisa, performing in front of 10,000 Liberty U. students who filled up their school stadium.  A Vietnam vet shared a rapid-fire and hard to follow testimony about losing his legs in a landmine and turning to Christ, then a dad of one of the Secret Service agents who died in the Benghazi embassy attack talked about how Psalm 145 comforted him.  Nothing wrong with people saying how God has helped them through tough times, but I felt like I had been tricked into paying $15 to watch a TV church service.  The only piece of the variety show that was truly original was Warren Barfield, the writer of the theme song, “The Time is Now.”  With a simple acoustic guitar, he performed an amazingly good song with a great message, which I have now purchased on iTunes and highly recommend.

When I thought this was all it was going to be, the actual movie finally began.  The tough questions.  The hard-hitting answers. The meat-grinder... (read the full review here)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Elizabeth - mother of a revolutionary

Enjoy our study of Saturday Sept. 14th at SiLC 59 in Houston:)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Rebekah - handpicked by God

Rebecca, Rebekah, Rebeca, every version of the Bible has their own spelling, but all are agreed that this girl was unique.  She was an answer to many years of prayer, and she proved herself by her servant's heart and her courage to go where God called.  Much of her life mirrored her mother-in-law Sarah: beautiful and deeply loved by her husband, desired by other men, barren for many years, given the gift of continuing on the blessing of Abraham to the next generation, struggling with two potential heirs, tempted to meddle in God's affairs, used her faith despite her failures until the end.

Enjoy part 1 our most recent Women's Breakfast study from Sept. 7 at SiLC in Houston.  Pass on the link!  Part 2 on clothing, adornment, make-up and even tattoos will be coming next...

Friday, September 6, 2013

Woman of God yet? Take the quiz!

Last Saturday we were supposed to talk about Rebekah, but the quiz that we started with, took up most of our meeting time, so Rebekah will wait till next time, but meanwhile we had a very thought provoking time of looking at our own lives and how much we are integrating what we learn in God's Word into our daily lives.  No one showed me all the results of their quiz, just a few groans and laughs let me know that there are plenty of aspects of our lives that are still a far cry from what God wants us to be.

Enjoy the audio link below and follow along.  The quiz statements that you are supposed to rate yourself with are listed here.  If the statement describes you perfectly, give yourself a 10.  If it doesn't describe you at all, give yourself a 1.  If you are somewhere in-between a "yes that's me" and a "I'm nothing like that" then assign a number to that statement that is closest to where you are at that moment, with 10 being the most like you and 1 being the least.  (Hope that make sense!)  Listen to the audio of last Saturday's Women's Breakfast in Houston and you'll get the picture.

Which character qualities are you developing?   Which ones do you lack?

obedience, purity
modesty, initiative
hospitality, devotion
beauty, trust
gratitude, discipleship
courage, servanthood

1. After a full day of work, my boss asks me to stay and finish a project while everyone else goes home. I quickly pray and choose to do what he asks with all my heart.

2. At family gatherings, when the gossip begins, it’s hard to know how to pull away and not join in.  Sometimes I do without wanting to.

3. I like beautiful things, but I rarely wear jewelry or makeup because I don’t want people to think I’m showing off.

4. I always make sure to offer visitors a delicious snack and something to drink, or if they come at mealtime, they are welcome to join me at the table.

5. When I know a neighbor is not feeling well, I like to find out what I can do to help.

6. When I’m at church or at work - I like to find ways to offer my help without being asked.

7. I’ve been waiting for an answer to prayer for a long time, but I’m beginning wonder if God really wants to answer me at all.

8. When the pastor preaches, I write down what God is teaching me so I can meditate on it to remind myself.

9. I used to wear really tight or revealing clothes but now I only wear them when I’m sure people in church won’t see me.

10. I seem to always be attracted to the same kind of man who doesn’t respect me.

11. When I hear people cursing I just walk out, and if I can’t I pray against that spirit.

12. I’m always trying to find ways to learn more about the Bible both in and out of church.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mary Magdalene - not who you may think

Take the quiz to see how much you know about Mary Magdalene:

She was a prostitute - true or false

She was the adulteress who was thrown at Jesus' feet, who the Pharisees wanted to stone - true or false

She was the woman with the flask of perfume who wept at Jesus feet - true or false

She had an illicit affair with Jesus and secretly married him - true or false

The real answer to all of the above - FALSE!

Mary from the small town of Magdala, was a woman who had been cleansed of seven demons, and totally devoted to Jesus and His teachings.  She served, she listened, she learned and she was steadfast in her faithfulness even when the disciples themselves didn't believe her.  She was given a unique honor by Jesus Himself.  Listen to last Saturday's audio recording from our weekly Women's Breakfast to learn more about this amazing woman of faith.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sarah - Grace and strength in a barbaric world

The mother of the child of God's promise, Sarah is one of the few women that is spoken of again in the New Testament, and held up as an example for us all.  When some think of obedience as weakness, Sarah proves that obedience to God is strength, protection and influence that can even reach the heart of kings.

Listen to our study from last Saturday's Women's Breakfast in Houston and enjoy!!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Mary and Martha - who do we choose to be?

These two women loved Jesus, and He loved their whole family.  They believed He was the Son of God, but both women had different responses to the same situations.  One was a good woman who chose to take care of what she considered urgent needs.  The other was also a good woman, but saw the bigger picture.  Jesus said that she cared about "what was necessary." So which one do we choose to be, the one focused on the urgent, or the necessary?

Recorded August 3rd at SiLC Women's Breakfast in Houston.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Critical Thinkers or Ditherers?

There are the believers in Christ who grab a hold of their faith and just go.  They face bumpy roads and tough challenges, but they brush themselves off and they go.  They can be new converts who quickly pass up those who have known God longer but struggle with the same cycle of problems over and over again.

The big difference is that those who mature and learn more, are those who connect the dots.  They don't forget what they have learned, read and seen along the way.  They come to conclusions based on what they believe in.

Those who show up for church and love every word, pray the prayers and feel comforted for the moment, have a choice when they walk out the doors.  They can reread what they learned, meditate on it throughout their days and the week to come, figure out ways to practice it, keep their eyes and ears open for God to keep speaking, and if a problem occurs that they don't know how to deal with, they do all they can to remind themselves of what they had learned, so they can react in the right way.  If it still doesn't work, they reach out for help - show up at church, talk to their pastor, get an extra prayer, whatever they have to do.  As answers to their prayers begin to pile up - and they always do for these people - those answers become a reference to constantly remind them that God is true and faithful.

Others walk out the door, and when the warm and cozy feeling of being close to God wears off, it doesn't occur to them to keep seeking God, rereading what He taught them or fighting off negativity.  They actually don't want to pray, because they're "not in the mood" to pray, to rebuke evil, or to just do what they know is right.  Somehow they think that just waiting around might cause that warm and cozy feeling to come back again.  If it doesn't, it's because God is so far away and doesn't want to give it to them. Their minds and emotions create imaginary conclusions that are based on nothing at all.  And there they stay, in a mental haze, until somehow they get back "in the mood" to turn to God again.

Mood based faith is no faith at all.  By observation, I'm convinced that the majority of Christians today live under the sway of a mood-based faith.

One of the most critical Christian thinkers I have learned from is CS Lewis, who challenges my faith with his writings every time I pick them up.  I know he writes in a more antiquated scholarly English, but that just makes what he says so much more thought provoking.  You have to really think about what he says rather than feel it.  Amazingly it's after thinking about the truths of God that a joy grows inside of me. I know they are true, because they have been thought out and reasoned out.  The pieces of the puzzle fit. Then that joy is prolonged because I can go out and make choices in my life based on the truths I've learned, and see how it all works perfectly, just like God promised.  The critical thinking that goes into analyzing our faith, makes our life of faith into a joyful celebration.

Interestingly enough, some of the most rational and intelligent Christians I've known are some of the least educated.  The conclusions that they came to, once they heard the word of God, compel them to act in such a radical faith that miracles happen immediately.  Meanwhile, some of the most educated people who are presented with the same teachings and testimonies, allow their feelings to be so clouded with a vague sense of trying to keep their world intact, they choose not to make any conclusions at all. They become brain-dead and would rather focus on the miniscule flaws in the church service and miss the truths staring them in the face that they desperately need.

God could use more critical thinkers in His church - more people who are ready to connect the dots, make conclusions and go.  They find answers, they discover God's will, they become strong and useful and flexible and bendable and freely give and sacrifice.  They let God purify them, while the rest are still dithering in their doubts.

I think that's what He meant when He said in Romans 12, "be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Women's Study, audio recording: Mary

Every Saturday I'll be posting up the most recent study on women in the Bible from our weekly Women's Breakfast held at the Succeed in Life Center on Houston's Southwest Freeway.  This week we started off with Mary, and we'll continue on for the weeks to come with studies of women from both the Old and New Testaments.  Ladies of Houston and San Antonio, thanks for coming!  There's more inspiration and fun to come  (not to mention the coffee and bagels!!)

Below is the link to the audio recording.  Enjoy!

Women's Breakfast, July 20: Mary

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Come on God, that's not what I would do!

“That’s so unfair!” I thought to myself as my 6th grade Sunday-school teacher taught us the long version of the story of God’s people who had suffered 400 years in slavery, and were only rescued after they cried out loudly.  Not only that, but their rescue came in the form of Moses who didn’t even want to go in the first place, who had to spend days and days arguing back and forth with Pharaoh and smiting the land with 10 plagues.  Then, they had to march for miles only to go through the trauma of being trapped between the Red Sea and a furiously advancing Egyptian army.  As if they had to march on and on through the desert, and of course they got impatient when Moses disappeared up Mt. Sinai for 40 days, wouldn’t you?  They shouldn’t have made that golden calf to worship, but did God really have to get so mad?

They finally they get to the promised land after all that walking and you’d think that God would be a little bit merciful and just hand it over with all the milk and honey flowing freely.  But no, they get to the Jordan River, and all these other nations are just having a good ol’ time in THEIR promised land, and after ALL those poor Israelites have been through! And then God expects them to fight?   Come on…

I would have fit in perfectly with all the grumblers and complainers among the Hebrew slaves.  “If I was God…” so went my childish imaginations, “I would just scoop them all up and carefully plop them down in the promised land with lots of rich farmland and all the things they would need.”  Those poor, poor, suffering Hebrew slaves.

But isn’t this childish thinking the way that we often view God?  The idea that the the whole ordeal of the Exodus was actually good for His people, is something we don’t like to think about when we’re going through our own Exodus.  We want pity, we want hand-outs, and we want it now.  But God is not a God of pity, but a God of compassion.

We’ve been talking lately in church about God as our Father, that there are some very distinctly male characteristics about God that we need to recognize.

  • He teaches us through experience, and lets us get a little scraped up by some hard knocks.
  • He always believes in us and is rooting for us to win
  • Though He knows we can feel like we’re in a scary place, He always encircles us with His protection, whether we feel it or not.
  • Getting the “big blessing” at the end of the trial, is not as important as the lesson of trust we learn in the process. 
  • He knows that once we get the “big blessing,” we’ll have much more maturity, humility and gratitude towards Him so that the blessing will be enjoyed and treasured far more than if it had been just handed to us
  • God never puts us through a test and then forgets about us when it’s over.  We are always guaranteed the reward He chooses specifically for us.
  • God doesn’t reward whiners
  • God doesn’t answer out of pity
  • God answers when faith and trust are acted out
  • If we fail, we always have the chance to try again, and again, and again

God’s rewards are HUGE compared to the little we are able to give
If we go all the way with Him, He goes all the way with us

Thank goodness we have a much wiser God than our selfish, limited little minds imagine.  For people who believe in free hand-outs and demand pity, God seems cold and uncaring.  But for those who are willing to learn and be led, to humble themselves, trust, and obey, He is the most generous and loving Father beyond our wildest dreams.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.  Ephesians 3:17-21

*** On a side note, I have noticed how our society enjoys degrading men in the media, making them look like buffoons and mindless animals.  Interesting how there seems to be a trend to distance people from understanding the value of male character qualities and mindsets, which is very much a part of who God is.  The more we want a "mommy" God, the less we'll understand our Father God.  Take a look at this link here, sent to me by a friend, to see some of what I'm referring to.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

We are works in progress

I so enjoyed this most recent blog post of my husband's on his daily devotional called 365 Passages, I had to repost it here. It's powerful!

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.   (Philippians l:3-6 — New King James Version)

In these four verses Paul uses words like “thank”, “joy”, “fellowship”, “confident”, “good work”, and “complete”. These are not the words of a depressed, negative, pessimistic man. The Philippian church was not perfect, no group of people ever is, but he speaks about them in a positive, confident way because he is filled with the Holy Spirit and lives by faith. Whenever we don’t have those two things, it’s virtually impossible to look at the world in a positive way.

Paul wrote these confident words from prison, and when we look at all four chapters of the book of Philippians we will find “joy” mentioned five times, and “rejoice” mentioned nine. These are themes of Paul’s writings, and show how a true Christian doesn’t have to be in a good place in order to be happy and joyful. Our joy doesn’t come from our surroundings or possessions, or from people’s opinion of us. Our joy comes from the fact that we belong to God and He is our partner in life — fellowship, in the passage above, could equally be translated partnership. Those who believe are in a partnership with each other, and with God, so how could we ever fail?

Paul is also confident. He could easily give in to doubt and fear, and to the many thoughts — that the devil must have been sending his way — of why things would not work out for him and the church. And yet he decided to be confident! He was confident that God would complete the work that He had begun in them. He saw life as a race, or as a construction project. He knew people had not yet arrived at perfection, but he was sure that God’s work in them would one day be complete.

Do you have the same spirit as Paul? I doubt that your situation is worse than his, and yet maybe he had more confidence and joy than you do. If this is the case… if you lack joy and confidence… if you are unsure of whether God will complete His work in you… you need to change right away. Choose to trust in Him. Believe in what He’s promised hook, line, and sinker. No sitting on the fence. Go all the way with God.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Proof that small changes in our behavior can make big differences

Just came across this article about how people who use smaller devices (iPods, iPhones, nano-istybitsy thingamabobs) end up displaying more passive and insecure behavior than those who use bigger, larger screened devices in comparison.  The bigger the device, the more assertive and confident the behavior of the person right after they use it.  The smaller the device, the more intimidated and unsure of themselves they are... interesting, isn't it?

They believe that the posture that a person has to use to hunch over a smaller screen, tapping tiny keys with delicate finger monitions, correlates to the mindset that they take on about themselves and about the world around them.  Their posture sends messages to their brain that they are insignificant and withdrawn, even if they normally wouldn't characterize themselves as such.  On the other hand, those who work on larger, more impressive looking devices, with wide screens that cause them to sit up straight and take in clearer visuals, messages are sent to their brains that they are important, smart, and have opinions that matter.

Other studies about facial expressions have proven this as well.  Paul Ekman is a psychologist who pioneered the study of facial expressions relating to emotions.  His researchers discovered that just making certain expressions caused them to feel emotions that had no relation to the situation they were in.  Contracting certain muscles to form various forms of frowns throughout the day, created a strong sense of sadness and depression, and likewise, using muscles to examine the different forms of physical smiles, created a great sense of happiness for no other reason than the fact that they were just smiling all day!

This is something I have seen repeatedly when it comes to faith.  Those who choose to proclaim and stand up for the promises of God, those who fully expect them to come true, take on physical changes in their behavior, that bolster that faith and confidence.  They proclaim that "God will answer me, no matter how I feel," and stand straight with their shoulders back, to convey determination.  Their hearts may not feel very determined, their emotions may want to cry and panic, but they choose to act and behave according to their faith - not their feelings.  Quickly their emotions fall in line, and their behavior the rest of the day also falls in line.  They are not intimidated by threatening clouds or negative words, but are confident to act in faith until the answer of God comes through.  They find they're not scared of risks, and that they enjoy being "on the edge" when everyone else around them is falling apart with fear.  And because of their confidence, (think Jacob having the audacity to wrestle with God) they are blessed.

They're not being fake - as some people would want to accuse them of being - they are choosing to be bold.  Rather than wait for the feeling of boldness to overcome them, they just decide they ARE.  Like Ekman's research team who chose to smile just for the sake of the study and found themselves full of joy at the end of the day, we have an obligation to God to choose bold faith, every day, and let God fill in the appropriate emotions later.

What kind of behavior will you choose to use in the month to come?  It could make all the difference in the world!

A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones. Proverbs 15:30

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ask for more than you deserve

A relationship expert, Alison Armstrong, mentioned on a recent radio show that women have a tendency to only ask for what they feel they deserve, not what they need.  They make a mental assessment of all the good they have done, and subtract all the mistakes and failures, and end up with what they imagine they deserve.  I would venture to suggest that they also subtract all the negative messages they have been fed by dysfunctional families, failures and unhappy relationships, which usually brings them pretty close to rock bottom when it comes to their perception of what they deserve in life.

Their standards of what is tolerable, acceptable, even “good” can fall so low, that they never do see their true needs met.  They tolerate loveless marriages, dead-end jobs, uncommitted boyfriends, unhealthy eating habits, disorderly households, foul language, rebellious children, etc., etc…

When it comes to insisting on what we need, many women feel guilty, almost ashamed to think that they have any right to have such high expectations.  But a need is a need.  Just like food, air, water, clothing and shelter are basic physical needs, there are many more needs that God wants us to have fulfilled, that we can foolishly believe are too much to ask for.

Let’s use the example of our basic need for a loving, happy home.  God says in Psalm 68:6, “God sets the lonely in families.”  Loneliness and lack of affection plagues so many, not just single, but married women as well.  Many do pray, do believe in God, and do try to be faithful to Him.  They could easily say, “This verse sounds nice, but must be for others who deserve it more than me.”

Right there, that deserve vs. need dilemma kicks in “I don’t deserve it, and obviously God thinks I don’t deserve it either, otherwise He would have fixed it a long time ago.”  And in an instant, her defeatist attitude blocks her her faith and from asking for what she needs.

“Asking for,” in God’s dictionary, can come in many, many forms. It could be crying out to Him loudly, or repeatedly persisting until the “unjust judge” responds, getting up in the early watches of the night to seek His face, lamenting, repenting and mourning, making a vow to Him, fasting from food, writing out a request, sacrificing possessions, standing firm in faith despite the circumstances…

In other words, God’s idea of asking is very active, and very determined.  It also presupposes that as we ask, we also listen.  God frequently responds to our requests with His own requests.  There are actions and choices that He requires of us, in order to prepare us to receive the blessings that we so greatly need.  As we obey, we open doors to receive even more than our needs.

Imagine a woman pleading for God to grant her a loving husband.  But her heart is full of bitterness towards her exes, and grudges against neighbors and coworkers.  If she is like the persistent widow and continuously comes to God with her request, she will be doing the right thing.  But part of God’s answer is to request a sacrifice from her:  Forgive them, love your enemies, be cleansed.  She has the choice to obey, or to rebel against His direction.  If she sacrifices her pride and forgives, she not only has pleased God, she has cast out an evil presence from inside of herself.  Her obedience and sacrifice, becomes an integral part of her request, proof of her faith, and gives weight to her insistence that her needs be met.  God may have more requests of her than that, but not because He wants drag out the process of blessing her just to make her suffer, He is strengthening her and fulfilling other needs as well.

If we got what we deserved, we wouldn't even be alive today.  God is in the business of grace, mercy, forgiveness, pardon - basically NOT giving us what we deserve.  God wants us to fulfill our needs, but if we are like the typical churchgoer who asks once in a while and then gives up with no action, no sacrifice, and no attentiveness to God’s requests, we can slip into the rut of believing that we never deserved it anyway.  

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Our 30th anniversary prayer for you!

Today's our 30th wedding anniversary, and I know it sounds cliche, but it really feels like yesterday.  On Wednesday the 19th, we'll be making a special prayer of blessing for the relationships and love lives of both marrieds and singles.  Finding a good spouse is all about letting God lead you from the beginning.  Then making that marriage work is all about surrendering your selfishness and letting God mold you through the love of your life, to become a better, stronger and more usable servant in His Kingdom.

Dave always teaches in our Succeed in Marriage Course, that getting married is going back to school.  If you think you already know everything, don't get married.  If you're ready to be humbled, stretched, and forced to change, then you will find so much more joy and delight in your life through a good and God-based marriage.  

Enjoy our little video!  (Sorry, for some reason videos don't appear for those who use their phones to read this blog, you'll need a computer to see it...)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The boldness of a good woman

Early in 1987, Dave had graduated and we moved back to the New York area.  We were going through a huge transition that would change us forever.  At this point I had become legally blind.  My in-laws, Forrest and Marianne, had just found an amazing church that routinely changed lives that were so drastically lost, that those changes were nothing short of miraculous.  Forrest and Marianne were on fire.  They had rekindled that old passion to turn the world upside down for God that was now burning brighter than ever, and now they hand handed over their church to this pastor from Brazil, Bishop Macedo.  I was excited to learn so many new things about miracles, about healing and casting out of demons.  I was hoping that this would be my answer to the eye disease I had.

But there was so much about my life at that time that was disorienting and strange.  For one, I could see only colors and shadows, and barely any shapes with the help of straining and squinting.  No lenses of any sort could help.  I also had just moved with Dave back to the east coast after three and a half years in Iowa on our own.  Those were the first three and a half years of our marriage, and much of who we were as a couple until then was shaped by those years.  Not only did we move, but into his parent's home.  The plan was for me to find a job, just as I had worked in Iowa as Dave studied, and Dave was to prepare for his final exam to be licensed as a chiropractor in the state of New Jersey.  Then he'd start working and we could start saving up for a house and move out on our own.  But that didn't happen.

I felt like I was being thrown into a giant blender.  I was up for some excitement, for God to do great things, and for miracles to happen.  I wanted to learn and to be used by God, but it was all so confusing.  There were so many new things happening and a lot of the old ideas of what serving God meant were being bumped up to a much higher level.  Bishop Macedo and his family were in the process of learning English and all my questions just had to wait.

I remember Sunday afternoon meetings on the second floor of the church in lower Manhattan, with the Bishop singing and praising God, encouraging us to seek the Holy Spirit.  He would tell everyone to feel free to stand or sit or raise their hands or whatever they wanted to do.  It was strange but wonderful to me that people could be so free to worship in this way.  I had grown up in churches where no one dared do anything that demonstrated feelings or individual worship, and as I looked around at others who were raising their hands and praying out loud, I admired them.  What a nice church that can allow people to feel so free to worship as they chose, I thought.

But as for me, my choice was to remain in my chair and bow my head and pray silently.  My prayers were sincere, my desire for God was deep, but it just wasn't "ME" to be so demonstrative.

One Sunday afternoon, it was the time for worship and as usual I was seated with my head in my hands, praying and wishing I could be as free as the other people in the room who were standing with their arms raised to heaven.  But I had to be myself, and myself was just to talk to God quietly in my corner.  The more I prayed, the more awkward I felt and distant from everyone else there.  But I had to be me.  I spoke to God sincerely and told Him that I wanted to be used by Him, to do whatever it was He wanted from me.  And then I felt a strong grip of hands on my shoulders.  It was Marianne, my mother-in-law.  She leaned up to speak into my ear, quietly enough so no one could hear her, but firmly enough to let me know that she meant business!

"Evelyn, stand up!  Stand up and lift your hands up to God right now! God needs you to praise Him!"  She squeezed and shook my shoulders as only a mother would, and then briskly walked back to her chair.  I was so shocked by what she had done, I jumped to my feet, stuck my hands in the air and started praying - loudly.  I think I was terrified of what she'd do if I resisted, but I believe it was more than that. I had been suppressing a yearning that I had had for a long time to just worship God with all my heart soul mind and strength, but hadn't out of embarrassment for how I might look to others.  I needed a shake-up by a woman who was bold enough to give me a push.  I am grateful that she did, because from that moment on, I learned the joy of throwing off my fears and focusing 100% on God in my worship.  And the funny thing was that no one even noticed since everyone else was busy worshipping too.

I never mentioned this to her, but I know that she saw the change that came over me.  My prayers have not been the same - a simple change of posture awakened a boldness in my faith and an assurance that God is right there receiving my worship and requests. Two and a half years later, this boldness built a faith in me that led to my healing.

I know many people who are just like I was.  They come to church with open hearts to learn, to give thanks to God and to fight against the evil in their lives, but worshipping Him in boldness is one of those things that is hard to take a hold of. But when people are in suffering, in the anguish of depression, addictions and broken homes, they need to cry out freely to God and connect with Him on a deep and honest level, and where else better to do that than in His house?  Forget that we're taught to be polite and quiet in church, forget that we equate silence with respect.  There is a time to cry out, loudly, just as there is  a time to worship quietly.  But if shame blocks us, none of it can honor God.

Well as most of you know, Dave never did take those state exams.  He had been called to become a pastor and leave behind his career goals, and there were many more bold acts of faith that God would require of us in the months and years to come.  Thank goodness we both learned to throw away our inhibitions and go for it, no small thanks to a great woman of God, Marianne Higginbotham!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Sugar-coated pride and shocking humility

Pride: the quality of having an excessively high opinion of oneself or one's importance

Humility: having or showing a modest or low estimate of one's own importance

Those definitions sound pretty self-explanatory.  We all can point fingers at people we're sure are proud, and can think of others we consider humble.  But pride and humility in God's dictionary is not always what it appears to be in our human understanding.

The cornerstone of civilized society and good manners, is to behave graciously and considerately towards everyone.  Be polite, don't be arrogant, selfish or egotistical.  Be thoughtful of others.  Mind your manners.  But if our idea of not being proud is based on this, we ignore a huge load of prideful behavior that slips by unchecked.

Moses, according to the Bible, was the most humble man on the face of the earth.  But what made Moses the most useful to God?  His faith caused him to be bold, aggressive, even confrontational towards Pharaoh and even towards the people of God when they had turned their backs on God.  He was tough and unmoving, and took control of what God had placed into his hands.  Not the typical description that comes to mind of a humble person.

Prideful people can be very civilized and polite and extremely selfish at the same time.

Humble people can be selfless and giving, while being outspoken, unbending and even angry as well.

The superficial qualities we attribute to these attitudes can be very misleading.  What we need to do is learn what God thinks of both pride and humility.

An example of pride could be:  Someone has seen a big answer to their prayers.  They see that not only has God given them the new job that they've been praying for, they've also learned a lesson about using their faith and trusting in God's promises, even when they hadn't seen any changes yet.  God changed their employment problem, but also changed their view of Him and taught them the power of persistent faith.  Great testimony, but when they have the opportunity to share it, an overwhelming feeling stops them.  "Don't be such a show-off, you haven't even started working yet.  If you tell everyone in church about how you've been struggling with doubts, they'll think of you as a weakling.  Don't tell them, keep it to yourself. Be HUMBLE."

And so those in the church who are also struggling with the same problems of doubts and unanswered prayer, who could have been helped and greatly encouraged by that testimony, never hear it, because of ugly, selfish PRIDE.  Pride disguised as humility.

Another example:  Someone feels a heavy weight of depression overcoming them, and they are doing their best to fight it off through prayer and trying to focus on all that God has been teaching them.  But day after day it seems to be getting worse.  The thought comes to go for some prayer and counseling at church, but a stronger feeling takes over.  "You've been in the church this long and you still can't get over depression?  What's wrong with you?  All you want to do is run to your pastor for counseling... you should know better, after all that Bible study you've been doing.  Fix yourself for goodness sake!"  And though that person has tried and tried to "fix themselves" to no avail, they still refuse to reach out for counsel, prayer and for a fresh perspective from their pastor to help them fight.  They think they're "bothering" the pastor, and perhaps in some churches, pastors really don't want to listen to their church members' struggles... but not in mine!

So once again pride disguised as humility keeps someone captive to their demons for an interminably long time.

Then there's that misunderstood fruit of the spirit, humility:  Someone has just given their life to God, and determined to live only for Him.  But at work, the gossips and foul-mouthed jokers wants him to join in all their “fun.” He still loves and cares for them, but the ribbing and the joking become ugly as it’s turned against him.  He could cave in.  Or he could feel intimidated and hide from them.  Or he could boldly and kindly let them know that he just isn’t into that stuff anymore.  Immediately he’s branded as a snob, as “the church lady,” and much worse.  He has to boldly go to work everyday, determined to be happy and blessed, no matter what anyone says.  He has to smile, serve, give, and even defend his faith if the situation calls for it.  He has to be fearless, courageous, thick-skinned.  Humble.

One example of Jesus’ humility?  When He kicked out the mourners from Jairus’ house so he could heal the little girl.  Another one?  When He called the Pharisees a brood of vipers and tombs full of dead man’s bones.  Not once ounce of pride ever entered Jesus’ heart, yet He sure did make a lot of people angry with Him!  Humility can be pretty hard-core, because it’s doing exactly what God requires, despite the opinions of anyone else around us.

Pride is refusing to do God’s will, and assuming that our own ideas are better than His.  If He calls us to battle against evil and we shrink back , call it fear or cowardice, but at the root it’s pride.  “I know what’s best God – I don’t trust You to tell me what to do.”

He calls us to let go of a problem and put an end to worry, and we refuse, the root of that is pride.  “Of course I have to worry about this!  I’m the only one who can fix it.”

He calls us to boldly take control of a situation and trust that He’ll guide us, but we make excuses why we can’t, we are acting in pride.  “God, you have no idea what I’m going through, leave this to me…”

Sugar-coated pride and shockingly strong humility.  Which one do you live in?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Moms - it's time to laugh and know you're loved!!

Happy Mother's Day and thanks for all the love and effort and diapers you've changed throughout the years.  There would be no us - without you!!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

So what's the opposite of depression?

The website for the world-famous Mayo Clinic has a good deal to say about depression, and even more about depression among women.  These are just some of the facts they state:
  • About 1 in 5 women develop depression at some point in life.
  • Women are nearly twice as likely as men to have depression. 
  • Depression can occur at any age, but it's most common in women between the ages of 40 and 59.
  • Vastly fluctuating hormone changes, from puberty, PMS, pregnancy and postpartum, on until perimenopause and menopause, cause a woman to become vulnerable to depression.
  • Outside influences such as abuse, neglect or rejection compound the likelihood of depression 
So it seems as if we are all doomed to fall into this ugly pit whether we want to or not.  Our physical bodies and all the changes we go through, plus accumulated junk from unfair and unkind treatment appear to make depression inevitable to all women.  How in the world are we expected to fight it?

I am no psychiatrist, but I have observed how our perceptions of the world around us make all the difference.  Our vision of who God is, of who we are and of what is possible for our future.  I have also observed that negative thoughts are often fueled by a spirit.  They are more than just thoughts, but spiritual beings give life to them, and cause them to "infect" us emotionally and spiritually.  They seem like logical thoughts, but they are usually driven by a very evil source.  Yes, I'm talking about demons.  

That's why it's so hard for us to wrestle ourselves out of depression.  Someone can present a perfectly logical argument as to why our feelings are wrong, and why we should move on and believe in something better.  But because negativity has a life of its own, a spirit driving itself deep into our inner core, we just can't seem to shake it.

Which also why those who suffer in depression can become very obstinate and easily insulted when someone tries to comfort or encourage them.  Those thoughts become intertwined with their own identity.  They hate the depression, but at the same time, attacking the depression feels like they are attacking themselves.  And so they nurse those feelings and struggle to find a way to get rid of them while holding onto the root of them at the same time.  

Negativity wants our eyes to point inward.  When we notice anything outwardly - our family, friends, co-workers etc., we react against them when they confirm those negative feelings that we already have.  A look, a harsh word, a joke, a slight, an inconsiderate action.  The negativity already enmeshed in our emotions screams loudly against each incident, and we are convinced that God and the world have abandoned us to a life of suffering and injustice.  We may never say that openly because it sounds so dramatic, but the overwhelming feelings say exactly that.  

As painful as depression is, the antidote for depression is also painful.  But in a very different way - in a healing way.  It's the pain of tearing our eyes off of ourselves and off of our wounded heart, and setting them firmly on God.  It's a change of vision.  To stop looking at the minuscule and to see the infinite.  Already I know that those with depression are angry that I would dare insult them by implying that they are, 1. Self-centered and 2. Faithless.  

That's where the beginning of the pain starts - the good pain.  The pain of ignoring your ego and admitting that there is so much within your own power that needs to be done, so that God can be free to bring about a total healing.  It can be done.  You don't need to interpret the behavior of others as being an attack against you anymore.  Their own negative tendencies or flaws never have to hurt you again.  Ever.  It can be done.  You can be healed of all the horrible memories of the past, and never let them hurt you again.  Ever.  You can learn to believe in the impossible, in what you've never seen, in what you've always dreamed could be possible, but were afraid to hope for.  It can be done, and not only that - those dreams can quickly become reality.  That happens through sacrifice.  Through the sacrifice of your ego.  

It seems insensitive to tell a wounded person who is deep in depression, that one of the keys to freedom is humility.  "But I've been humiliated all my life - how dare you say that?"  Not humiliation, but humility.  Admitting that you need to change your mindset, to kill the ideas of what you think is too hard to do, to have a vision of what you can do, even if it seems scary.

Another key to freedom is learning a healthy dose of boldness to believe in yourself.  "So you think I'm insecure because I want to be?  You think it's as easy as just changing my mind? Don't you know what I've gone through?"  Yes, but making excuses why you won't try is also being proud.  Sorry, but it takes humility to be bold, to start acting against your own emotions and to go places and do things that you had always avoided out of fear of rejection.  Believing in yourself is all a part of believing that God  created you perfectly and will back you up.  He will be faithful to you.  Your boldness is an act of faith, that weakens the demonic forces that have a hold on you.  You need to visualize that in your mind's eye.

The best and most amazing key of all is to have a GREAT BIG vision of God, His power, His love for you, His protection, His healing, His plans, His future - His everything.  I imagine that someday when we stand before Him and see Him face to face, all our worries will seem so ridiculous and petty.  We'll wonder why we hadn't believed more when we had the chance, why we didn't expect more, surrender more, why we wasted so much time gazing at our own inner conflicts that could have been erased in a moment.

I've known women who have left depression behind and have made massive leaps ahead in their lives.  They are the ones who had the courage to use these keys, and to believe in a great vision for themselves.  They visualized what was possible, and then determined that it would become reality.  Never was any of them perfect at it, but their desire and their sincere attempts to sacrifice their egos, pride, fear and all the rest, brought about their personal miracles.  I know others who have learned all of this, but continue to look inward, and have never found freedom.    

The opposite of depression?  VISION!!   


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Christian radio, fluff, and depravity

Funny how you can hear people talking and just know that they are church-going folks because of the lingo they choose, the happy-happy chirpy tone of voice you often hear on Christian radio.  I always smile knowing when a believer is behind me in the check-out line at the supermarket, but I often wonder just how deep that faith goes.

I’m not being judgmental, but I say this because I’ve talked to a good number of these sweet-natured chirpy Christians who hold many deep resentments and anger issues and feel uncomfortable speaking to their pastors about it.  That’s why they come to us. We meet them in our Anger Management courses or Marriage Courses, or they just walk in searching for help.  But they are “good Christians,” at least they all say they want to be.  Some have been Sunday-school teachers who like to frequent strip clubs or get high on the weekends.  Some admit to substance abuse to deal with stress, others suffer from debilitating depression.   Some feel so unloved that they have affairs and are eaten up inside with guilt.  They sing in the choir, lead the youth group, are members of the board, and somehow get caught up in online indecency, hateful texting, addictions, blame, guilt, fights, violence, pain.

So when I listen to the local Christian station and hear those slick DJs with their oily voices and forced smiles repeating their scripted clichés… “Sometimes God just wants us to rest on Him.  He cares, and He listens, and that’s all that matters.  Let’s get uplifted now with a great new song by Jeremy Camp…”  I feel a bit nauseated.

All that matters is that He listens and cares?  Aren’t we supposed to expect an answer?  A real change?  No… apparently as long as He listens, that’s the best we can hope for.  So little is offered, and we are encouraged to celebrate the slightest hint of an answer because it’s unreasonable to expect anything more from God.

A lady called in to one of these stations with a “testimony” of how she had been crying on the anniversary of her mother’s death, and praying for God to send her mother a message in heaven that she still loved her.  A few minutes later, her mother’s favorite song came on and she burst into tears, knowing without a doubt that God had sent the message and that her mother was responding through the song.  Now, just how dead people can determine the song line-up of a radio station, I have no idea, but the DJ sure thought it was a great testimony of faith, love and family unity...

No mention that the song plays once an hour anyway.  No one gave a thought to the bizarre concept of communicating with the dead, something on the same level as consulting mediums and doing witchcraft.  No idea that heaven is so awesomely amazing, why would anyone in heaven even want to hear a message from us? (Remember King Saul and Samuel?)  Not to mention that God is not a messenger boy who needs to tell anyone up there that we say, “Hi.”  But as far as the DJ was concerned, it was a story worthy of an oily-voiced, “Praise God for your faith, ma’am, and for the love of family - we know that God still cares, and that’s all that matters,” then she made a slick transition to another hit song.  Gotta keep those listeners pleased.

I know some people who would take offense at me saying that this was no miracle.  Sorry, but I think that God deserves to be glorified for doing the impossible - healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons, and transforming lives just like He did 2000 years ago.  He can comfort us in small ways, but why not expect more, especially when so much evil is contaminating Christian lives?

People want to find the Almighty God, they want to see miracles and need help desperately.  But they are settling for fluff, for oily voices, for clichés and false comfort.  No wonder believers are falling away like dry leaves when there is so little substance to the message Christians have today.  If we don’t step up and show God’s power as real and tangible, no one else will.  Our God is an awesome God, as the song goes.  Where are the Christians who strive to reflect that in the world?  …  For those of us who claim His name as our own, that really is all that matters.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Beautiful Altar

This morning we're going to be praying with our pastors who have gone to Mt. Hermon in Israel to lift us up to God as they stand at the peak of the same mountain where Jesus was transfigured thousands of years ago.  Mountains were holy places, God-made altars where men came before Him to cry out, to give thanks and to hear what He had to tell them.  The Mount of Olives, Mt. Carmel, Mt. Moriah, Mt. Sinai and Mt. Calvary.  They were a symbol of us reaching up to God, and Him reaching down to us.

I never really thought in terms of altars and holy places as I grew up. Altars to me were just tables to hold decorative church-y things in my mind.  Big bibles on a stand, the offering plates, candlesticks, and once a month, the communion cups and bread.  But that was because I didn't understand the beauty of altars. I didn't know that they were the place where man connected with God.  The place of sacrifice and giving was also the same place of receiving much more beyond what we could give.  It was an exciting place, a place of power and contact with the supernatural.

This hit home for me in Africa when my husband and I were traveling all over the continent practically every week.  I had a one year old, and an 11 year old who both needed a lot of my care and attention.  Our home was like a guest house for traveling pastors from around Africa who came through Johannesburg for supplies and to attend pastors' meetings.  We had little privacy, and little time to ourselves, and the boys, though they loved getting to know other people, really needed the stability of a calm and peaceful home.  As much as I loved the opportunity to travel and see other countries, I hated knowing that my children were being left in the care of others.  The other women who helped me were a wonderful God-send, but they were not my children's mom - I was, and I kept leaving them, feeling guilty as I went to do the work of God by my husband's side.

There were times I asked him to let me stay home and for him to go alone, and he was always understanding, but there were many times that I knew it was important for me to be with him in his travels.  Sometimes it would be for a day, three days, a week or more.  And each time I'd leave with those sad faces of my children in my mind, and my heart would ache.  I'd pray and pray for God to take care of them, but sometimes I'd come home to find out that homework wasn't done right because I wasn't there, and he'd get into trouble in school. or the baby had fallen and hurt himself or would have a fever because he caught a cold... there was always something to make me feel so guilty that I had abandoned my children when they needed me.

I couldn't figure out why God wasn't answering my prayers to take care of them while I was away.  I was doing it for His sake, caring for His people who were suffering in other countries, why didn't He protect my children from harm?

There was a time in church when we were hearing a lot about Abraham and his sacrifice of Isaac.  God revealed to me that I had to learn to sacrifice my children.  I already was, physically speaking, but spiritually and emotionally I was still holding on to them.  I'd leave, and then worry and fear for them, and fill my mind with negative thoughts.  I wasn't surrendering them to God, even though I thought I was.

I began to think of what Abraham had done.  The moment he had relinquished his son to the will of God, to be willing to take his beloved child's life with his own hands, a spiritual power came upon them both.  At the moment that this child was placed on the altar, that act made young Isaac holy.  He was shining in the spiritual world, and Abraham was too.  They were covered in God's protection because they had both become holy.  No evil can touch a sacrifice when it is given with a heart of trust, and no evil can touch the giver of that sacrifice.  It's like God's spiritual force-field surrounds them both.  Since God didn't want evil for Abraham or for Isaac, He didn't allow Abraham to go through with the killing, and told him to take his son back, unharmed.  That was a huge turning point for Abraham, and why God calls us to look to him as the Father of Faith.

So I reasoned that it was time for me to relinquish my children to God, to place them on the altar like Isaac, every time I had to leave them.  I had to believe that God's power was covering them, because this was not my choice, but the life that God had called me to at that time.  I was obeying, so God would have to reach down to make my sacrifice holy, untouchable to the devil.  Just giving them up and feeling pain wasn't a sacrifice - it was the trust that this "altar" in my heart where I placed them both, would be a holy place that God would honor.

The day I began to truly sacrifice my children to God, was when all the sadness and turmoil stopped.  They were fine, they were blessed and happy, and they were not traumatized by the experiences as my fears and convinced me they would.  My faith obligated God to protect them from physical and emotional harm, and that's just what He did.  Eventually those trips slowed down, and when we moved back to the States, i was able to stay with them 24/7, which I loved!  But ever since then, I have offered them to God and I see them on that altar, surrendered to Him.  They are not mine, but His, and because of that they are safer than anywhere else in the world.

Now I don't see altars as just decorations in the church.  They may be a simple table or a little platform where the pastor preaches, but when he stands there and humbly offers himself to God to deliver God's message to His people, the power of God comes upon both the giver, and the recipients of that message.  And when we go to that altar to lay down our offerings and sacrifices, or when we come forward to offer God our lives, those offerings represent our choice to honor Him above all else.  We are covered in His light, and we are able to connect with Him because we are giving - heart, soul, mind and strength.  It's a wonderful thing to know you have become untouchable to the devil because the light that shines in you is unbearable for the devil to approach. No wonder the devil hates the idea of sacrifice!