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!