Saturday, December 17, 2011

'Tis this Season to be Holy'

I am participating in Beth Moore's Daniel Study. The study has 'daily homework assignments," that we complete throughout the week and then gather together to view a "session sermon," by Beth. We are recently completed Session 7 which correlates with Daniel 7 and touches on the characteristics of the Anti-Christ/Beast/Man of Lawlessness. In verse 25, of Daniel 7, we read that

" He (beast), shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times , and a half time."

Beth goes on to explain in the homework, that many scholars believe that "shall think to change the times and the law," relates to what we know as our practice of religion. She painted a picture of a time with which we were under a nasty dictator who desired to take away all religious holidays and practices. She then proceeded to ask, what would it do to you if you were not able to celebrate Christmas or Easter with the true meanings behind the commercial costumes? If we weren't able to celebrate Christmas by going to church, would you have an "underground service?" I wonder if that is what individuals are doing around the world that are already under the oppression of a nasty dictator. Would you risk going to jail to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ? Or perhaps the death and resurrection of Christ?

From that, I went a step further in my mind and asked, "What if the commercial aspects were no longer a part of the holidays? Would I anticipate the season as much as I do with all of the commercialism and excitement affiliated with gifts? I'm not trying to be a Scrooge in all of this, but I am trying to truly "set apart" from the world by asking these questions and gauging myself with the Truth, God's Word. I am not going to copy down the entire text from 2 Peter 3 but I will begin at verse 16 where it says, (these are Peter's 'Final Words')
"..There are some things in them (Paul) that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this before hand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen."

I so encourage you to read the scripture leading up to this passage because it describes a lot of the events behind the final words of Peter. Now, does it say flat out, "The Anti-Christ will take away all holidays and persecute Christians that choose to celebrate them?" Not exactly, but from we do know, He will do everything in his power to twist and mimic the One True God. In Daniel we have learned that Satan goes as far as creating his own version of the trinity: "The Dragon" (correlates to the Father), the Beast (correlates with the Son) and the False Prophet, (correlates with the Holy Spirit). So we can only assume he will attempt to turn these once beloved celebrations of our Lord Jesus Christ into holidays that are centered on him or at least distracting us from their origins.

Do I like the excitement and jolly of the time of year: you bet your boots! But I am so thankful that I was reminded to step back and ask the Lord to renew my mind a bit from the whirlwind of "Christmas-Fluff," and ask myself, would I celebrate the true meaning of this holiday without recognizing Christ? I think many of us, even Christ-followers would find it easy to just buy gifts, sit around a tree, hang up Christmas lights and call it good: especially if it meant keeping us from going to jail. Now these are just holidays, celebrating them or not doesn't mean obtaining salvation or not but they do center on the One who does give us Salvation so it would only make sense to celebrate and honor the LORD for what He has done.

My prayer is to not destroy the lyric, "Ti's the season to be jolly," but perhaps think in terms of another version, "Ti's this season to be Holy." Christ came as the light of the world, to illuminate us and bring us from the darkness of sin into light; to transform us and make us worthy of being in the presence of the Holiest of Holies. By all means you can be jolly but let the jolly be from the fact that Christ has come to make you Holy!

Post comments! Share what the Lord is teaching you in this season!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Part 3: Miss to Mrs

Part 3 of “Miss to Mrs”

Our third and final portion of this mini-series of devotionals ends with “S” as “Surrender your thoughts and emotions to God.”

When you’re planning a wedding, you have countless number of thoughts running through your mind. It is so easy for Satan or your flesh to take over and really mess with your emotions. Things that wouldn’t normally bother you all of a sudden do; areas that you are normally very patient in become incredibly difficult to wait upon and yes, I’ll say it, girls, we are very emotional in life transitions! Even if you have a wonderful relationship with your family and soon-to-be in-laws it’s easy to get hung up on their suggestions for the wedding or ideas for how things should go and you can get overwhelmed! There were so many times I wound up in tears over something so pitiful and so not worth my tears! Kory and I entered into the season of wedding planning praying that I wouldn’t get overwhelmed with it all but It was most certainly a battle to the very end! So my advice? When you feel your emotions rising, take a step back and say, “I surrender these emotions and thoughts to you God.” Don’t even allow your mind to go beyond that initial thought. Emotions are wonderful and should not by any means be disregarded, however I will say as one who can be very sensitive, they get in the way! They truly can destroy the joy of everything if you allow them to. God is above your emotions: your faith is not based upon your emotions, it’s a choice. Similarly, when things are thrown at you during the planning process, you have to approach them with a clear mind, with minimal emotions. Happy and excited feelings are great! Bridal showers, bachelorette parties, hair appointments, decorating for your new home are wonderful and should be lavished with your emotions! I remember at my Bridal shower in South Dakota, I was so overwhelmed with the love and support of my family and the church body, I started to cry during my speech and EVERYONE began to cry (45-50 women!). It was so beautiful! I loved that moment! CLING to those moments of emotions. On the other hand, I think I cried to Kory every night of the last week leading up to the Wedding. I remember it was 11 O’clock the night before I asked if Kory and I could pray together before midnight (as if we were going to turn into pumpkins! We didn’t see one another before our Ceremony). I was a mess. He was great to affirm me in all of it but I was a mess! Reality will sink in and a lot of emotions will take over. This is when you have to step back and say, “Lord, I trust you! I trust you with my emotions and ask for your will to be done on this special day!” Your worrisome mind will not make the wedding go any smoother nor the transition of being single to a wife any easier! Worrying about anything will not accomplish anything! Worrying will only make you more fatigued from your already hectic schedule, am I not correct? I am really preaching to myself because you realize that this is not just a “wedding thing,” it’s a day-to-day struggle for a majority of women: it continues well beyond the kiss at the alter!

So what does scripture say about your thoughts? I feel like David, although a very manly-man, was pretty emotional considering the Psalms he wrote! I love it because we can definitely relate to him! Here are some Psalms that ultimately our God who created emotions, wrote through the Psalmist David:

Psalm 10

1 Why, LORD, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

2 In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
who are caught in the schemes he devises.
3 He boasts about the cravings of his heart;
he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD.
4 In his pride the wicked man does not seek him;
in all his thoughts there is no room for God.

Psalm 13

1 How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

3 Look on me and answer, LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,

Psalm 92:4-6

4 For you make me glad by your deeds, LORD;
I sing for joy at what your hands have done.
5 How great are your works, LORD,
how profound your thoughts!
6 Senseless people do not know,
fools do not understand,

Psalm 139

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

1 You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.

Psalm 139:23
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

Do you see the emotions in David? He isn’t necessarily ignoring them and being emotionless: he is investing his emotions into the LORD and not in his situation or people he is interacting with is he? The times that he did react with his emotions, he ended up sinning! Now is this saying you shouldn’t confront someone or a situation? Not necessarily but whatever that situation is, it shouldn’t be a response ridden with random emotions that lead to endless drama and regret. If there’s an issue ---during the wedding, after the wedding, it should be approached with emotions expressed to God first, then probably your spouse can be a sounding board and then a response to the offender/offended. Make sense? Ultimately, God needs to be the God of your emotions. He didn’t give us emotions so that we could make decisions on our own: He gave us emotions as a gift to truly experience and worship Him through our senses! When we waste our emotions on matters of this world or worry of what could happen, we are taking away from the gift that God gave us for worship. Make sense?

So there you have it: Miss to Mrs! There are many more “tips and hints” to this process but when I was practicing “r” by running one afternoon the week of the wedding, this idea came to me as one that would be worth sharing! So what does MRS stand for? Make time. Rest in Him and…..Surrender your thoughts and Emotions to Him! And…..guess what, just over 2 months into it---I AM STILL HAVING TO APPLY THEM! That’s why Miss to Mrs is not just for pre-married women, it’s for ANYONE regardless of season of life!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Miss to Mrs Part II

Continuation of the series "Miss to Mrs" Part I was on "Make Time" today's blog, "Rest in Him" and yet to come, "Surrender Your Emotions." These are three tips mostly for the "Bride to be" but can be applied to any one's situation!

Rest In Him

What is your typical sleep pattern? Do you get 8 hrs? 9 (lucky!)? The few months prior to the wedding, my sleeping pattern was horrible! I had so much going on outside of the wedding that it only added to my already sporadic sleeping pattern. Just last week, my beautiful and much more technologically savvey friend Jessica, showed me an application on her phone that tracks the depth of her sleep pattern. Picture a typical x-y axis with a line following closely to the X-axis: this meant you had a wonderful, deep sleep---the kind that you do not like waking from. Then she showed me the crazy squiggle lines one night she slept poorly: months prior to the wedding, my screens would have looked like!
It wasn't so much my concern that everything would be perfect, there was just so much to do. It doesn't help having a bit of a creative mind that doesn't want to shut off. But more often than not, it's easy to become really consumed with ideas and anxiety if and when they will become a reality. You may be experiencing lack of sleep for other reasons; school, work, family issues, tension between a friendship or a boyfriend/girlfriend, fear of future problems, finances and the like. Sadly I recall a wonderful devotion on this topic but have forgotten who wrote it. I remember the devotional said something along these lines: sleep is actually an act of worship because it's a signal that we are trusting God with tomorrow. The mentality: "I don't have to fret about tomorrow now when my body is aching for rest, I can sleep and trust that the Lord will provide." Now the Word also warns about sleeping too much, haha, but for the sake of this devotional, let's pretend we all have sleep depravity. I found a couple scripture verses that pertain to this idea of trusting the Lord as we sleep:

Proverbs 19:23
The fear of the LORD leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm.

Psalm 127
Unless the LORD Builds the House

A Song of Ascents. Of Solomon.
1Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
2It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
3Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.

Isn't verse 2 a wonderful verse to cling to on this subject: It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep." I don't think God is hating on the "Early Bird/Late Owl" mentality here so just because you enjoy getting up in the morning or like to stay up later doesn't mean you are in vain---but in context with "eating the bread of anxious toil," can reveal that God is talking about individuals that have a tendency to fret and worry themselves to the point that they cannot sleep. Here are some more verses:

Psalm 4:8
8 In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, LORD,
make me dwell in safety.

Ecclesiastes 8:16-17
16 When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labor that is done on earth—people getting no sleep day or night— 17 then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.

And if you think about it, God used sleep as a time to speak to people throughout the entire Bible. I wonder if He thought it wouldn't scare them as easily as someone like Gabriel just walking into your home. Ha!

So although you may be having loads of fun creating things for your wedding, it's important to allow yourself to simply REST IN HIM because it's so easy to become unhealthily consumed with the wedding, the job, the greatest fear etc... And if you think of your sleeping as an act of worship, it is easier to do! Approach going to bed like walking into your church sanctuary with a beautiful worship going on. It will make your pre-wedding months so much more enjoyable!!!!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Clutter of Fear

Image from:

Have you ever gone through the spare bedroom of your house, a closet or the garage and really sorted through things, tossing the clutter? My dad is notorious for bringing old things “back from the dead” or the trash pile at our house because “You never can tell when you may need something.” Now my dad is probably the most creative person I know when it comes to reusing items: he can make anything out of nothing, it’s awesome. But isn’t it funny when you clear out a lot of that clutter, how much room and space you have? The room takes on a whole new look does it not? I love re-organizing space; my husband constantly shakes his head and grins at how many times I have rearranged our spare bedroom closet. We have only been married for a little over a month and I have probably cleaned it every weekend since then! I have to be transparent with you however; although I may be an impeccable organizer of space in a home, my life is cluttered. Many people struggle with specific sin “cluttering” their lives like pornography, love of money and financial advancements; mine clutter is fear.

I was sitting church last Sunday listening to the sermon on the beatitude found in Matthew 5:3 which states, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” As the sermon progressed, I felt this tug on my heart in this area of fears. Being poor in Spirit, as Pastor Mark explained, deals with two components of humility and transparent. Humble in the sense that we need to be willing to admit, “We need help!” Christ did not come to this earth to tell us, “Thou shalt hold it all together!” (I wonder if Jesus/God/Holy Spirit J giggles at how we throw in “shalt’s” and “thou’s.”) No, Christ came to take that yoke upon himself and we are simply to rely upon him. I think when we boil it down, our desire to hold it all together doesn’t stem from a heart of wanting to do things right but rather hidden pride. Pride can come in all shapes and sizes. Proverbs 16:5 says, “5Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished.” We can all recognize arrogance and are quick to judge that individual for being so arrogant, when in reality, my little fear-fests everyday are not any better. Whether a man is boasting outwardly or inwardly he is still boasting. Fear tiptoes along this line of inward boasting: “I need to perform, I need to do well, I need to be efficient because of xyz.” Or, “If I don’t do this, I am going to look so bad, and/or have to admit that I am not who I should be.” What you should be is a humble, transparent Christ-follower that is dependent upon your God. This “should be” always haunts me throughout my day as if I am not as efficient enough, thorough enough or even funny enough, I am a failure. These thoughts of failure clutter my mind just like the spare bedroom closet containing random things we say we are going to use ‘one day!’ We hoard our fears, churning them over and over in our minds throughout our days as if thinking about them will scare you into performing better. As you look back on your day you may ask yourself, “So….what was I so afraid of in those moments? What did I even accomplish?” It’s silly! But I believe this fear-fest truly stems from a heart of non-reliance and rest in the God of REST! James 5:5-6 says

5Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"? 6But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Grace, some versions use “upholds.” What a magnificent word! Do you ever feel like you need something lifted up during your day? Maybe it’s your body! You’ve exhausted yourself from the trials of the day so much that physically you’re aching of tension (cough, cough, everyday!). Not only uphold but in verse 5 it says that God yearns; He yearns jealously over the spirit he has made to dwell in us! Not a spirit of arrogance, organization-extraordinaire, nor independence from God, but a Spirit that WORSHIPS God. A Spirit that relies upon God. How awful yet wonderful to know that during my day of worry and fear that I have a God jealous over my cluttered mind; readily providing grace without me even knowing it!

So how do we change? We need clean-house: not become more organized, but clean-house on our worries. This first begins with humble acceptance of our need for God; recognize, it’s not about us! No matter how much is at stake, your worrying is making your God jealous because ‘7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline,’ as it says in 2 Timothy. So any other ‘spirit’ ---especially of fear, is counterintuitive of what God has given us: aka, WRONG! Seek power, love and self-discipline. Admit to God that you do not have the self-discipline to remove these fears from your day; that they overwhelm you driving to work or at work or at home with family. Ask for power to overcome them and the ability to love those around you. That is something that really frustrates me at the end of the day, I look back and ask myself, “How did I show recognition and love to those around me today?” Usually my answer is nowhere to be found because my day was spent slaving over my cluttered mind.

Does this all make sense? I hope so. Can you see how when you really dig-deep enough into your cluttered mind, that the clutter is not coming from poor organization but rather a prideful heart: a heart that desires an independent spirit from the God who loves you. Reject the spirit of timidity today and seek the Spirit that provides power, love and self-discipline.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Miss to Mrs

Part I ( because I have too much to say!)

Well, it is hard to believe but just a few weeks ago, I married an incredible man and began the beautiful yet probably scary road to something called a marriage! And to tell you the truth, I actually feel so much better on this side of the ceremony than on the other! So often you hear of girls dreaming about the “Big Day,” myself included, but as my wedding drew closer I found myself discovering areas that were not a part of my dream. I had this idea of writing this devo just a few days before the wedding: I was trying to stop and reflect on the whole process of preparing for the wedding rather than freaking out about the last minute details that weren’t falling into place. I tried to think of acronyms to go with the term “Mrs.” The letters relate to the process of going from a single woman to a married woman while maintaining a sense of joy:
M-Make time
R-Rest in Him
S-Surrender emotions
In reality, these principles can be related to all stages of life but I found that they are most needed during this transition. Allow me to expound! Make time. Ha! You may be thinking, “Ok Joni, allow me to wave my magic wand and ‘kapoof’ TIME!” I know, I know, it isn’t that simple is it? But I don’t literally mean create more time or even really ‘cut-out’ things from your schedule but it is important to set aside time to be with the Lord, friends/family and yourself. Preparing for a marriage doesn’t involve just the wedding, it involves life-changes and you will need the Lord, you will need a community and you will need sanity! I was running when I came up with this idea for a devo: running has always served as my little piece of ‘me time.’ I love mornings (as you can tell by the time this devotional was written!) and so that is usually the time I set aside for the Lord. Probably the area that I must admit that I struggle in, is squeezing in the time for my friends and family. I am a driven individual that loves order, and progress and so it is difficult for me sometimes to just stop and enjoy a person near me. This would be the area that I failed-in prior to the wedding and it showed. When I did get to have some ‘girl time’ or ‘family time’ I was exhausted or continuously running my brain to go over the mental list I needed to accomplish. Now, I must also be realistic and say, “I planned a wedding in four months!” So of course things were tight with time being the greatest pinch, however you should never neglect making time. What does the Bible say about all this? Let’s look at a few verses relating to the topic of ‘making time.’
Jesus Prays in a Solitary Place
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
Look at the fruit that came from Jesus going off to a solitary place: He was able to have a focus on preaching in nearby villages, and to drive out demons!
The Fellowship of the Believers
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
I realize that this passage is referring the church as a whole following Pentacost---but we can still apply the principle of the matter, “Fellowship is important!” Not because God wants us to have our own little social clubs and feel like we belong---but because it represents Him! He is continuously in fellowship with himself and so we are worshipping God when are meeting together, sharing our resources---like time!
Titus 1:3-5
3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
Ha! I am sure a few people see this verse and have an immediate response; however, I want you to read it five times first! First off, I love this passage because I think of all these little old ladies having too much wine (I know, that’s not necessarily what it’s saying---but it’s a funny picture is it not?). The point of sharing this scripture is to see the importance of older women, yes, your mom included, in teaching you how to become a wife. I realize that moms are not perfect: you may have a mom that neglected you greatly and the last thing you want is her advice on how to be a wife; or perhaps your mom passed away and you cannot go to her for advice on the matter---that’s ok! This passage opens up the door and includes “older women” they don’t have to be in a nursing home –they could even be an older sister, someone you work with or even your new mother in law—I know that may be pushing it for a few of you (mine happens to be a counselor so it works out!). Notice the importance of these older women speaking into the younger ones about loving their husbands and children, learning how to be self-controlled, and pure. “Busy at home” may or may not cause you to wince just because so many women struggle with the thought of ‘just being a stay-at-home-mom.’ When in reality, it’s a great privilege and technically, one of the woman’s greatest duties within a marriage is to prepare a home; a place of rest and settlement for all those who inhabit it (herself included---that’s why you can splurge a little on the décor, or at least that’s my reasoning! Hehe!) Being kind, and subject to their husbands: just their husbands, not other men and notice it ends with the reality that we can actually distort the true Word of God if we don’t practice these Biblical principles! Ok. I think you have the picture on “Make time.” Let’s move on to R!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Moments of Trust

(Photo of myself in my Grandpa and Grandmas in Wisconsin, happy and healthy!)

I am feeling most challenged on this topic of trust lately. I am at a bit of a crossroads in my life and so it is easy to become overwhelmed with the countless possibilities and events that will take place in the course of the day let alone the next few months. As I sat in church this past Sunday listening to a sermon on Proverbs 3:5-6, I couldn’t help but want to apply this scripture to my life: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.” As our Pastor took this verse and explained key aspects to the act of trusting God, he shared several stories from his life as well as within his family of moments that trust was demonstrated either between one another or between himself and God. I began to think about my life and moments of trust. As a little baby, I experienced a time-period between the ages of 8 months to 2 years that I had several seizure episodes with the possibility of having a chronic condition. My mom retells this story every year on my birthday to remind herself and myself of God’s faithfulness in my life. She remembers standing over my crib every night watching me, afraid that I would have another episode. She often would call my grandmother (her mother), Erma, so fearful and my Grandma Erma would simply say, “Dorothy, I have prayed about it, and I really feel that she is going to be ok—I just have a sense of peace about this all.” Mom would reply, “I just don’t have that ability right now, my faith is so weak with fear.” And Grandma Erma said, “Well then, just rely on God through my prayers!” My Grandmother Erma had such faith and trust in God in those moments that she was able to act as a pillar, a tangible mediator on behalf of God---not desiring to be relied on because of her own strength, but because of her own faith and trust in a faithful God.

Lo and behold, I quit having seizures and when my brain was fully developed, I was told I wouldn't experience them anymore! Praise God! A miracle! The bittersweet part of this moment of trust in my life is that my sweet Grandma Erma passed away not too long after I was healed. I don’t remember interacting with her, but I cannot help but feel that the prayers she invested in me as a child have impacted me well beyond that trial. It is so good for us to recall these moments of trust in the past to remember that God is faithful! He is on our side! He will never leave us nor forsake us. He does not desire to give us a snake when we ask for a piece of bread.

Additionally, in the act of trusting God with either our very life or a situation within our life, we are to let go of leaning on our own understanding. This is the very center of my thorn in my side: I stubbornly rely on my own abilities, intellect and resources. Even if you recognize those gifts are from God, you still cannot rely on them! God desires for us to surrender our own understanding. In the sermon, our Pastor shared these other verses in regards to the aspect of leaning not on your own understanding:

Proverbs 11:28 “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous shall flourish like a green leaf.”

Proverbs 28:26 “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”

It is so easy to fall into the habit of relying on your own understanding. I will often try and anticipate what God is doing in certain situations in my life and say to myself, “Oh! I bet this is what God is doing, or perhaps this is what God is teaching me.” When in reality, this mentality is wrong! It is not wrong to attempt to discern God’s leading, but it is wrong to always try and figure things out on your own: “I got this God, I know what I need to do.” Watch out! This habit of relying on yourself is deeply rooted in our sinful nature dating back to the Garden. What did Adam and Eve eat from? The tree of Knowledge in Good and Evil. Think about that, Eve wanted to know for herself instead of simply walking with God and her husband. So often, we too “just want to know.” We pray, “God, I just want to know what is going on here! Why is my life like this? Why is it so difficult or Why can’t I just be free from this!” When in reality, God doesn’t want you to have to carry the burden that He does: it is not a burden to Him because He is God of the universe: we are merely human. The heartbeat of our God is to be loved and trusted by his children: for us to rely on Him and desire for Him. Like a father desires for his child to trust him in certain moments here on earth, so much greater does our Father desire for us to simply walk with Him in these moments of life: both in times of trial and success.

What about you? Take a moment right now, and recall just one moment of trust in your past. If you are having difficulty recalling a time, read the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis to get your mind reflecting on another’s moment of trust. You’ve experienced a moment, trust me! (Ha! No pun intended) When you recall that moment, praise God for it—even if it was years ago, praise Him for it right now. Thank Him for the countless times he has been faithful to you and your needs and then surrender whatever your facing right now as well as your understanding of it. Wait. Wait for the Lord either to respond with His overwhelming peace or deliverance in some form or fashion. Whatever the outcome, know that it is best because God’s way is always best. Our minds are so finite and can barely make-out things two feet in front of us; God sees eternity behind and before Him. Take a moment and simply trust!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Trusting in Chariots

image from:

Trust in the Name of the LORD Our God
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.
1May the LORD(A) answer you in the day of trouble!
May(B) the name of the God of Jacob(C) protect you!
2May he send you help from(D) the sanctuary
and give you support from(E) Zion!
3May he(F) remember all your offerings
and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices!
4May he(G) grant you your heart’s desire
and fulfill all your plans!
5May we shout for joy over(H) your salvation,
and in the name of our God set up our(I) banners!
May the LORD fulfill all your petitions!
6Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with(J) the saving might of his right hand.
7Some trust in(K) chariots and some in(L) horses,
(M) but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
8They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright.
9O LORD, save(N) the king!
May he answer us when we call.
Cross references:
A. Psalm 20:1 : Gen 35:3
B. Psalm 20:1 : Prov 18:10
C. Psalm 20:1 : Psalm 59:1; 69:29
D. Psalm 20:2 : Psalm 73:17; 2 Chr 20:8
E. Psalm 20:2 : Psalm 128:5
F. Psalm 20:3 : Acts 10:4
G. Psalm 20:4 : Psalm 21:2
H. Psalm 20:5 : Psalm 9:14
I. Psalm 20:5 : Psalm 60:4; Song 6:4, 10
J. Psalm 20:6 : Psalm 28:8
K. Psalm 20:7 : Isa 31:1; 36:9
L. Psalm 20:7 : Prov 21:31
M. Psalm 20:7 : 1 Sam 17:45; 2 Chr 32:8
N. Psalm 20:9 : Psalm 48:2 ESV

While driving in your car, you trust that your seatbelt will keep you from being ejected if an accident were to occur. While riding a bike, you wear a helmet trusting that it will protect your head if ever you were to fall off. While baking cookies, you trust that the oven mit you put on your hand will keep it from getting burned. These are all obvious, common sense things that we trust in every day right?

Well take it a step further and think about some emotional and psychological securities you may have: do you make sure you have plenty of money sitting your bank account just in case you need to buy something? What about your job? Do you work 50+ hours in your attempts to secure your position, pleasing people while paying an outrageous mortgage with three little ones and a loving wife at home? Do you spend endless amounts of time studying and preparing for exams that it sucks the joy and life out of every day? What about spending loads of money on cosmetics to make your face look younger, and a physical trainer to help you keep your body toned and sleek? What about transitioning your kids into adults? Do you have a tendency to put ridiculous amounts of rules and regulations on them, expectations so that they grow up and transition as easily as possible, without any challenge or conflict along the way? And lastly, when you lay your head down at night on your pillow, do you fall asleep with the mentality, “I am good enough, if I were to die tonight, I would go to heaven: I pray, go to church, help out the needy every once in a while….”

When trouble arises within your life? What is your “go-to?” In Psalm 20, David writes a series of almost prayer-like phrases to the reader, encouraging them to put their trust in the LORD. During his time, people put their trust in the power of the Egyptian army: these men rode on chariots and horses and were extremely powerful. I think of the movie, "The Prince of Egypt," or maybe the "Ten Commandments," when I read this text and envision this wall of soldiers racing to the Red Sea to try and stop the Isralites from crossing. What happened to these men on chariots and horses though? The Red Sea collapsed upon them and they all died. Their chariots did not save them in moments of battle. We have plenty of battles that go on everyday that we attempt to fight with our "Modern Day Chariots."

In times of hardship, rather than relying on your health and physical capabilities, your performance at work, your creativity in organization and your ability to persuade and communicate---putting your trust in God. Rather than relying on pleasurable things like sex, alcohol, pornography, sports, romantic novels and movies----putting your trust in God. Rather than relying on giving your kids everything they need, exhausting yourself in every activity known-to-man, studying harder ..putting your trusting in God. And rather than seeking out your daily quota of good deeds for the day to fulfill your requirement to earn your salvation, putting your life in the hands of Jesus Christ---and trusting that the LORD our God will save you.
Just stop and take a few minutes meditating on Psalm 20. Maybe explore those cross-references like “L” in verse 6 leads you to Isaiah and gives more insight on these “chariots” and “horses.” There are things in life that make sense to do –wearing a helmet, a seatbelt and using oven mits –I am not saying disregard these things and just rely on the LORD to save you  But what is it that you cling to if something were to happen to your loved ones? Your job? Your body? Do you ever imagine what life would be like without those things? If you cannot imagine seeing your life without them ---you need to take a step back and have a heart-check. I am not saying neglect your kids, your job, your body, your finances---but don’t also put all of your hope, joy and peace into those things—even a life is a temporary thing. Invest in things that will last by putting your trust in the LORD and believing that HE is big enough , strong enough, loving enough and forgiving enough to save you from whatever your facing!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Missing Out on Milk and Honey

In the Bible, the Promise Land was flowing with "milk and honey." As a nutritionist, I say "everything in moderation"; so my healthy promise land would consist of fruits and vegetables with that milk --skim. As an average woman, my promise land would have been flowing with milk and chocolate chip cookies or Oreo Blizzards from Dairy Queen. Ha, what about you? This is not really a deep theological question, I am just trying to get your little imagination working!

Why milk and honey? This promised combination was first introduced in Exodus 3:17-18ish when God promised the Israelites that he would, "to bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, a land, "flowing with milk and honey." And they will listen to your voice....." Ok so fast forward to Deuteronomy 1:25 where scripture cross references us, and it says, "And they (twelve men sent to the Valley of Eschol) took in their hands some of the fruit of the land and brought it down to us, and brought us word again and said, 'It is good land that the Lord our God is giving us." So it wasn't in a literal sense, Hehe, my imagination has these men coming up with their hands all stuck to milk bottles (BAH! Sorry, early morning, kinda loopy!) So basically, the milk and honey represents fruit, land that is prosperous and well....promising! Now you know the rest of the story, the Isralites refuse to enter into this promise land because they are fearful of the giants and fortified cities. The people "wept that night and grumbled against their leaders Moses and Aaron. They thought it would be better to go back into Egypt as slaves than to enter into this wonderful land. Now, I am not a huge risk-taker and coming from the outside in, but if God promises to deliver his people---he does. These people had just dusted off their sandals from walking through the Red Sea; they had a pillar of fire at night and a cloud in the day aka God's presence leading them through the desert; I just would expect a different reaction, wouldn't you? I mean, how would have you reacted? Put yourself in the place of an Israelite for a brief moment.

Now look at your track record? Just ponder this past year and recall challenges, frustrations and moments that you either trusted the Lord, or you coiled back and hung out in the wilderness for a while. Perhaps you're facing a promise land opportunity right now: an opportunity of a lifetime--a mission trip, a new church, career change, or even a relationship. There maybe a few reasons to coil back: fear for finances, fear of failure, fear of having to work too hard, fear of just not knowing what each would look like. You are at the highest point of potential with the choice to take a step forward or backward. The Israelites chose to take the step backward and they all died before they were able to enter into the Promise Land. Not only that, but God was ..well, really frustrated with them: ....." I have pardoned, according to your word (response to Moses' attempt to intercede for his people). But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and not obeyed my voice shall see the land that I swore I would give to their fathers. "

Ah. The frustration of a Father. I think that disappointment in God's voice within this passage alone would be such a heavy weight to bear. Can we be different than the Israelites, please? Can we approach the Promise Land God has set before you with confidence in our God? I am probably one of the weakest people when it comes to confidence and faithfullness in trusting the Lord's hand. But the scripture, God's Word records these stories and parables and love letters with the purpose of guiding us through this life. I am praying that we would not choose the desert over the "Dessert" if you will, of the Promises of our Loving Father. God is bigger than your fears of failures, fiances, even your health and safety. Let's trust Him!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Purity Plan

Image from:

We have this running joke in our family involving the world’s greatest dessert, “Better than ‘S-E-X’ Cake.” Yes, the hyphens in between the letters are to prompt you to spell the word out. I believe my Aunt Nancy first made the cake and told my mom about it. I think Nancy spelled it out as a joke because we were younger---and to this day, I still spell the word out! Or else I replace it with “Better than winning the Boston Marathon Cake!” All kidding aside, I am so very thankful for my parents in the way of educating my siblings and I on the importance of purity at an early age. Sure, I guess you could consider us a wee bit sheltered: I read the books, went to the Rebecca Saint James, “Wait for Me,” concerts and even have a cousin that taught abstinence in schools! You could say that I was set-up with a no-fail system in high school and college. What is crazy though, is that as I am only 40 days out from my wedding, and in all honesty, those things are not what are keeping me from falling into sexual temptation: it’s the Holy Spirit. Even though those things have helped remind me throughout my adolescent years to remain pure, it wasn’t until I hit the homestretch of my engagement that I realized that purity runs much deeper than wearing a ring, setting boundaries and having accountability. I think so often we rely on these forms of accountability within the Christian faith that we almost undermine the power of the Holy Spirit in moments of temptation. We also give credit to curriculum and perhaps even an example rather than seeing the inner-probings of the heart as the most crucial aspect and plan in it all.

Scripture tells us that when Jesus ascended into heaven that he told his disciples that it was better for him to go so that “The Helper” could come. That ‘helper’ is the Holy Spirit. Now I think, in that moment as a disciple, I would have said, “WAIT A SECOND! You’re Jesus---someone better? Huh?”

John 16:7
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for(A) if I do not go away,(B) the Helper will not come to you. But(C) if(D) I go,(E) I will send him to you.
Cross references:
A. John 16:7 : John 7:39
B. John 16:7 : John 15:26; John 14:16
C. John 16:7 : Acts 2:33
D. John 16:7 : John 14:2
E. John 16:7 : John 14:26

John 14:16
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another(A) Helper,[a] to be with you forever,
a. John 14:16 Or Advocate, or Counselor; also 14:26; 15:26; 16:7
Cross references:
A. John 14:16 : John 14:26; John 15:26; 16:7
Why would it be better to have the Holy Spirit instead of Christ? We can flip back a few pages to John 14 and read this!

John 14:26
26But the(A) Helper, the Holy Spirit,(B) whom the Father will send in my name,(C) he will teach you all things and(D) bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
Cross references:
A. John 14:26 : John 14:16
B. John 14:26 : Luke 24:49; Acts 2:33, with John 15:26; 16:7
C. John 14:26 : John 16:13; 1 Cor 2:10; 1 John 2:20, 27
D. John 14:26 : John 2:22

Now you may say, “Joni, I am so happy that all you need is the Holy Spirit to keep you pure, but I need something a little more tangible in order to keep myself from falling into temptation.” Which is totally understandable, and I am not in any means discounting the importance of supplementing your relationship with Christ with tangible things such as setting boundaries, having accountability or reminders of pursuing purity—but , (a big but!) we as Christ-followers cannot disregard the power of the Holy Spirit and need to be intentional about approaching purity by asking the One who defines Purity. If we claim that the only reason why we are remaining pure is due to books on purity, or because Rebecca Saint James wrote a song about waiting, we miss the boat completely on God’s original plan for us.

A couple of months ago, I sensed a shift of temptation in the physical component of my relationship with my fiancé and I was frustrated. I was reading in a women’s devotional book (that I cannot recall right now) that dealt with the topic of “Sanctification.” It touched on a passage found in Exodus 31 that describes God as ‘Jehovah-mekoddishkem’ which means, “The Lord Sanctifies You.” And in this passage, specifically in verses 12-18 we read:

The Sabbath
12And the LORD said to Moses, 13"You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, 'Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. 14You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death.(A) Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15(B) Six days shall work be done, but(C) the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD.(D) Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. 16Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17(E) It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that(F) in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and(G) on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.'"
18And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the(H) two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with(I) the finger of God.
Cross references:
A. Exodus 31:14 : Exodus 35:2; Jer 17:27; Num 15:32-36
B. Exodus 31:15 : Exodus 20:9
C. Exodus 31:15 : Exodus 16:23; 20:10; Gen 2:2
D. Exodus 31:15 : Exodus 31:14
E. Exodus 31:17 : Exodus 31:13
F. Exodus 31:17 : Gen 1:31
G. Exodus 31:17 : Gen 2:2; Heb 4:4, 10
H. Exodus 31:18 : Exodus 24:12; 32:15, 16; Deut 4:13; 5:22; 9:10, 11; 2 Cor 3:3
I. Exodus 31:18 : Exodus 8:19

So from this passage, I gathered that true sanctification can only come from God. How does this relate to earthly relationships: in its entirity! God did not create purity for relationships, he created relationship for purity. To sanctify means to set apart, to be holy and/or saint-like. We must understand that we have to be sanctified to be near God because He is so incredibly holy. This can only come from God ---even though the passage also tells the Israelites to keep the Sabbath as a form of worship to God. Verses 12-13 proves this point “I the LORD, sanctify you.”
So although relationships are wonderful and beautiful---they are not what defines you, God specifically uses all areas of our vapor-length lives to shape and mold us; redeem and transform us so that we can ultimately be with Him for all eternity.

This is concept is threaded throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament with verses. Probably one of the most beautiful love letters related to the concept of sanctification is found in John 17 of Christ praying—I encourage you to read the entire passage, but the key piece for this topic is found in John 17:19
“And(A) for their sake(B) I consecrate myself,[a] that they also(C) may be sanctified[b] in truth.”
a. John 17:19 Or I sanctify myself; or I set myself apart (for holy service to God)
b. John 17:19 Greek may be set apart (for holy service to God)

Other scripture: Acts 20:32, Acts 26:18, Romans 15:16, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 1 Corinthians 6:11, Hebrews 2:11, Hebrews 10:10, Hebrews 10:14, and Hebrews 10:29.

Scripture from ESV

Whew. Ok, let’s bring this “Purity Plane” to a landing. So what I felt when I read all the scripture on sanctification is that we should pursue holiness in all areas of life. “Be Holy for I AM Holy.” So even though we are made holy by the blood of Christ---there’s an element of us continuing to pursue holiness. That last passage in the list above, Hebrews 10:29 has some strong words to set some fire under the importance of pursuing holiness, “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” So as you can see, it is CRUCIAL for us to not just “Save Ourselves” because of what our parents taught us, Rebecca Saint James sang about, or we don’t want to get pregnant etc…our ultimate purity plan is to the FEAR GOD and to recognize that HE DIED so that we could be made Holy and blameless before the Father. The Holy Spirit bears witness to this truth and therefore, should act as the key to our “Purity plan.” Do I say, disregard boundaries to your relationship? NO WAY HOSEA! In fact, Kory and I are constantly finding we have to, even as much as on a per-day basis, to set some boundaries on how we spend our time together.

Ok, what if you made a mistake? What if you pushed the Holy Spirit aside and indulged a little? Or perhaps you totally ignored Him and fell into the temptation. You will be forgiven--Praise the Lord. God is such a gracious and merciful God and will redeem your waywardness ---but just like the passage in Hebrews says, we do not want to “spurn the Son of God,” and “profane the blood of the covenant by which we were sanctified with.”

So, continue to remind your lovely future spouse of what the Word says. Sexual temptation itself is not wrong—it’s if you fall into it and give way OUTSIDE of marriage. If you sense probing’s of the Holy Spirit in simply sitting next to each on the couch days before you are married, talk about it, pray about it and ask Him for direction. When my fiancé and I find ourselves tempted, we often sit back and say, ‘Whoa, wait a second. Are you ok?’ and then pray about it and go our separate ways. Sometimes it’s easier than others to do this but I cannot stress enough for you to include the Holy Spirit in the time you spend together: He should be number one on your list of your purity plan. And I guess if this all fails (which it won't!) is try implementing “Better than S-E-X cake” into your daily time together and eat it whenever you’re tempted.....I guess, once you’re married, you can compare! :)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Guest List

Image from:|mt:0|

I have just completed the never-ending task of sending out wedding invitations for my wedding at the end of the summer. This process began mid-May and went through most of June with a few ‘straggler invitations’ yet to be sent out! Thankfully my mom had kept my sister’s list from her wedding as somewhat of a foundation to go off of with a few of my friends and finance’s friends added here and there. The wedding won’t be extravagant in number by any means but one hopes that most people invited will attend! There’s nothing like anticipating a large number of people for any dinner or banquet and then only a handful actually showing up. The RSVP cards tend to be the critical information more so than the invitations because therein lies the expected attendance. After all, you want to make sure that you get a good estimate for the reception. Maybe you even go as far as to put names on tables of expected guests: I am staying away from that because it means more work!
If you haven’t been married before maybe you can relate more to a birthday party or a big get-together or party; who do you think you’d invite? Generally friends and family, some colleagues, and oh, wealthy acquaintances that will no doubt bring a great gift, right!? Would you ever anticipate inviting a homeless man off the street? What about a single mom that lives in an abuse shelter? Perhaps you’d invite the nerdy kid from your Chemistry class in high school? Ok, ok, maybe your boss that nobody likes and drives everyone crazy or the precious, special needs kid that works at the local grocery store? If I could peer out from your computer screen what facial expression would you give me regarding the previous suggestions? More than likely I would get a mixed face, “Dah, ah, yah, I mean I guess if they really wanted to come….maybe,” or “You know, I would just prefer to have people that really care about me or people that will give good gifts!” Ah ha! That’s what I thought: this reaction is and is not ok; ok in the sense that you’re human and selfish and sinful and you have to be honest; it’s not ok in the sense that you’re human, selfish and sinful so you are in desperate need of Christ to redeem this area of your life. You may be asking yourself, “Self, why is Joni telling me who to invite to my wedding, birthday party or get-together; who does she think she is?” This is true. I am not here to tell you who to invite to your next big shin-dig but a passage of scripture really shook me up and reminded me of who the center of the wedding, party or get-together should be about. It also reminded me of a much larger celebration that will be taking place soon when Christ returns and that we as Christ followers should humble themselves when comes to selecting their seats. Let’s read Luke 14:7-24 together shall we? ESV version
The Parable of the Wedding Feast
7Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed(A) how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8"When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this person,' and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place,(B) so that when your host comes he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11For(C) everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
The Parable of the Great Banquet
12He said also to the man who had invited him, "When you give(D) a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers[a] or your relatives or rich neighbors,(E) lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13But when you give a feast,(F) invite(G) the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid(H) at(I) the resurrection of the just."
15When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him,(J) "Blessed is everyone who will(K) eat bread in the kingdom of God!" 16But he said to him, (L) "A man once(M) gave a great banquet and invited many. 17And at the time for the banquet he(N) sent his servant[b] to say to those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.' 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.' 19And another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.' 20And another said,(O) 'I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.' 21So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, 'Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in(P) the poor and crippled and blind and lame.' 22And the servant said, 'Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.' 23And the master said to the servant, 'Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24For I tell you,[c](Q) none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.'"
a. Luke 14:12 Or your brothers and sisters. The plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) refers to siblings in a family. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, adelphoi may refer either to brothers or to brothers and sisters
b. Luke 14:17 Greek bondservant; also verses 21, 22, 23
c. Luke 14:24 The Greek word for you here is plural
Cross references:
A. Luke 14:7 : Luke 11:43
B. Luke 14:10 : Prov 25:6, 7
C. Luke 14:11 : Luke 18:14; Prov 29:23; Ezek 21:26; Matt 18:4; James 4:6, 10; 1 Pet 5:5, 6
D. Luke 14:12 : John 21:12 (Gk)
E. Luke 14:12 : Luke 6:34
F. Luke 14:13 : Neh 8:10, 12; Esth 9:22
G. Luke 14:13 : Luke 14:21
H. Luke 14:14 : 1 Cor 15:23; 1 Thess 4:16; John 11:24; Rev 20:4, 5
I. Luke 14:14 : Acts 24:15
J. Luke 14:15 : Rev 19:9
K. Luke 14:15 : Luke 13:29; 22:16, 30
L. Luke 14:16 : For Luke 14:16-24, Matt 22:2-14
M. Luke 14:16 : Isa 25:6
N. Luke 14:17 : Esth 6:14; Prov 9:3, 5
O. Luke 14:20 : Deut 24:5
P. Luke 14:21 : Luke 14:13
Q. Luke 14:24 : Matt 21:43; Acts 13:46

Jesus is sharing two different parables in this passage of scripture however, I think they both relate perfectly to our theme. In the first parable, Christ is hanging out at a Pharisee’s house having dinner. He was being watched closely (Luke 14:1-6) because he had just healed a man on the Sabbath. He was directing his words towards the Pharisee’s in saying (via Joni Paraphrase), “Look, when you go to a wedding feast, do not expect to sit in a place of honor, rather seek a less important place so that when the hosts come up to you and invite you to a higher place to sit, that you will be honored even more!” Christ had this amazing way of teaching humility—especially to the Pharisees, the religious and self-righteous people of the day. We have these people to—we may have even been one of these types of people at some point: thinking we deserve a higher place when we go out to eat somewhere, attend some church event or even at work. Christ is radical in the sense that he calls us to seek the lowest position first. This doesn’t necessarily have to be related to particular event like a wedding but rather just your typical “weekend splurge.” Rather than trying to climb the popularity later by dinning at the “high society restaurant” instead you serve at a local food pantry or mission, pulling up a chair to a table of homeless men and talk about life. We have a lot to learn about becoming last, do we not?
The second parable is related to a “Great Banquet,” rather than a wedding. Christ again challenges the Pharisees to abstain from the typical trend of inviting people that they enjoy being with, friends, family and wealthy individuals and invite the lowly people of the community. These people have nothing to offer you other than their attendance to the feast. The parable transitions into a story of a man who invited a ton of people to his home and surprisingly, everyone he invited made up these excuses to not attend. I thought the excuses Christ uses in the parable are very relevant to today’s society:
(1) I have bought a field and I must go see it! I have gotten something new and more exciting than attending some feast. Maybe it isn’t a field for you, maybe it’s some new boat, piece of technology, a new car or work-related investment that you are excited about. I can spend time with people any other weekend…….
(2) I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them—this maybe more work-related. “ I don’t have time! I have to get this paperwork in before the fiscal year ends or else! Or perhaps its activity driven, “My kids have umpteen soccer games and t-ball games this weekend, I won’t have time to have a meal with anyone, in fact, we’ll be eating in the car!”
(3) This is my favorite excuse, it made me giggle: “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” HA HA HA! AH! Seriously? I mean, I undoubtedly will want my husband’s undying attention with certain “Honey to do” lists that will be created once we’re married. Maybe this guy is also relating it more to the pleasure of being with his wife too! I don’t know the exact angle he is taking with this excuse but all I know is that as near and dear as your spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend or family member is to you, they should never trump the unique and amazing fellowship we have with God at the Table.
As the church, we have a tendency to put excuses before the Lord similarily to these guests, “not now God, I know you want me to go on that mission trip but I just can’t take that amount of time from work,” or “I know we should go to that Bible study with the other couples on Wednesday night, but I am just too exhausted and need to just be home for one night,” or “God, can I not enjoy and splurge a little on some entertainment rather than give the money to the church?” The man in the parable just ‘had it’ with the invited guests so he invited anyone off the streets to come and enjoy the feast: the man wanted a full house! The scripture passage specifically says “Compel people to come in.” The ESV commentary says:
“that the Greek word anagkazo means to “compel” or “force” someone, but a number of interpreters understand a weaker sense here: ‘strongly urge, persuade.’ That sense seems better suited for the context and is supported in other examples of Greek literature. The kingdom will be filled, but many of those originally invited will be excluded.”
In an effort to somewhat tie these things together without impeding poor theology, I see it this way: God doesn’t need us to fill the places at His table, but rather, He invites us to join Him. If we decide not to go, it’s our loss and he finds someone else—even if they are “less deserving” in the world’s eyes. I feel that we in America sometimes haven’t the slightest clue what it means to truly humble ourselves and see our actual position in the Kingdom. We look at other cultures across the world and see their efforts of the faith as inferior because their worship is not as civilized as ours, or our ways of studying scriptures at the corner coffee shop as more spiritual than the grandmother reading her children scripture under a bug net in some tropical community. Am I disregarding our efforts in America to read the word as fake and erroneous? Of course not! I don’t care what it takes to make you read the Word or to seek the Lord in your life---but the idea of becoming last instead of seeking to be first comes harder for Americans simply because of the way our culture is structured. Additionally, we make tend to make excuses when it comes to partaking in true fellowship in community. We are an independent-thinking culture and always working towards improving ourselves, our surroundings or current life situation. While we are busy running around, chasing the wind as Solomon states in Ecclesiastes, God is inviting us to join him in an Eternal feast NOW---not when Christ returns---we can enjoy fellowship at the Table NOW! It truly is our loss if we make excuses not to attend.
So, no pressure for those of you that have been invited to my wedding  come if you can! For those of you coming, it won’t have any distinguished place-settings so no need to seek higher positions. My heart’s desire is to make myself last at my wedding, even as the bride so that God may be glorified and for the event to truly be a picture of this passage of scripture. It’s not about us! Don’t make excuses for when God invites you to partake in the REAL celebration! RSVP your attendance today by surrendering your life to Christ!

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Look

Image from:

I have been blessed enough to have the opportunity these past two weeks to work with kiddos at a hospital in Little Rock for my last rotation of my internship. It is really special working with kids because there is this sense of hope throughout the halls and various units. One unit that I have been able to work in is the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or the NICU. All week I have been looking after premature babies, calculating calorie, protein and fluid needs as well as tracking growth. It is crazy how after a while, you begin to see numbers and charts and forget that this is an actual child, a human being with a need. Today however, I had one of those moments that stopped me in my tracks. It wasn't a cute nose, an adorable cry or a tiny little hand that attracted my attention: it was the look of a special needs baby. I was with my preceptor and she was explaining to me the condition of the child and the little baby opened up his eyes for a brief moment and it hit me like a ton of bricks. His eyes were so deep and his face so freshly made and flawless. Even as I write this, I get the chills and it has been etched into my mind.

As I was walking tonight, I thought about the significance of that look and how it relates to God's purpose and will for life. So often people think that if a child is marked with a mental or physical disability that their little life is worthless and ruined. I don't completely understand why conditions and disabilities occur and why God "allows" them to occur but I reverse that mentality and thank God for creating a life to begin with! None of us deserve to live in the first place. Not only that, but creating a life like that--that is different, unique and special. I feel that hidden behind those deep blue eyes of a special needs baby is a child that God has created with a plan and purpose to reveal an aspect of our amazing Creator. He is helpless; dependent upon his caregiver completely. Similarly, we are helpless; unable to eat, drink or even breath on our own without our Creator granting us another minute to live on this earth. There is truly something about that little guy and I am thankful for his look today to remind me of how precious this life is that we have all been given. It is my heart's prayer that you too take a moment and look into the eyes of a baby and see your need to become like a little child before your Father; humbling and surrendering yourself to our blessed Savior Jesus Christ as your provider both for Salvation and your very life!

John 3:2-4 (English Standard Version)

2This man came to Jesus[a](A) by night and said to him,(B) "Rabbi,(C) we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do(D) unless God is with him." 3Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is(E) born(F) again[b] he cannot(G) see the kingdom of God." 4Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?"

Psalm 127:3-5

3Behold,(F) children are a heritage from the LORD,
(G) the fruit of the womb a reward.
4Like arrows in the hand of(H) a warrior
are the children[a] of one’s youth.
5Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies(I) in the gate. ESV

Saturday, April 23, 2011

What is Your Isaac?

Image from:

The Sacrifice of Isaac

1After these things(A) God tested Abraham and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I." 2He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to(B) the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." 3So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy[a] will go over there and worship and come again to you." 6And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and(C) laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father!" And he said, "Here am I, my son." He said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" 8Abraham said,(D) "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together.
9When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and(E) laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I." 12He said,(F) "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for(G) now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." (ESV)

This story of obedience has always fascinated me. Abraham lived with a sense of reckless abandonment that we are to also apply to our own lives. What is interesting about this story is that prior to this event, God had promised Abraham this for years upon years upon years. When he finally got Issac as his son, God asks him to sacrifice him---notice Abraham did not even question the Lord in all of this. Abraham simply replied, "Here I am Lord." Now all this is to not glorify Abraham as some super-human but to recognize the true definition of "fearing the Lord." Verse 12 says this after Abraham had the knife prepared to slaughter his son: "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you FEAR GOD, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me."
In those days, having a son was a HUGE deal. Huge. Because the son carried on the family into the next generation, the family's inheritance was passed onto him by this father. So everything that the family accomplished or did in the span of time they were given on this earth, was passed onto the son. Isaac was not just one of many sons of Abraham---he was his only son--the son that God himself had promised, yet he surrendered him wholeheartedly to the Lord. I love the point of this passage where Isaac asks, "Hey dad, where is the lamb to be sacrificed ?" And Abraham replies, "The Lord will provide the lamb." AH! Does this not sound so familiar to what is to come in the New Testament? "Behold the lamb that comes to take away the sins of the world?" Christ fulfilled this sacrifice: He too was God's only Son.

Even though we may not have children or understand the totality of offering your own child as a sacrifice, we too can relate and are called to fear the Lord as Abraham did. Christ has become our ultimate sacrifice through his death and resurrection. So although we may not "need" to sacrifice anything to obtain our salvation (other than total surrender of our lives) we are still called to fear the Lord--to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul mind and strength.

What is your "Isaac" in life? Is it your future? Is it your education? Your body? Your job? Your money? Your mom? Your dad? One area that God has GREATLY transformed in my life is the concept of marriage. As I am preparing to be married, I cannot help but think back to years prior to becoming engaged--I prayed and prayed for my spouse. I remember just before I met Kory, I had come to this realization that my life did not begin with marriage--my mission and ministry did not commence at the alter. Funny how all of a sudden I met Kory and now am engaged to be married. But even now, as I look forward to so much of a marriage with him, I find myself continually taking our marriage to the top of the mountain, knife in hand prepared to sacrifice it---not because I want to destroy it, nor do I want to lose it---but because even though marriage between a man and woman is sacred, and a wonderful example of our relationship with Christ----the Lord is to be feared above all else. The Lord is to be Lord over all. Do we need to live in fear of God taking things away from us that he has given? No, of course not---God is not out to give us something and just take it away because he can: but he does have the authority in our lives as Lord, to do whatever it is that will bring him the most glory--because He is God.

So the point in all of this is to not say to you, "What would be the hardest thing to sacrifice to God?" But rather make the point that God actually is the one who sacrificed the most in all of this---yes he called Abraham to surrender his son as a sacrifice, but God surrendered his very self, in the form of Jesus Christ, the Son, as an atonement for our sins. Would that not compel you to sacrifice anything and everything in your life---including your own? I pray that we would not cling to the gifts we've been given; education, family, a spouse, our bodies, our very lives---but that we would cling to the Giver.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Joyful Reconciliation

Psalm 32 1(A) Blessed is the one whose(B) transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2Blessed is the man against whom the LORD(C) counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit(D) there is no deceit. 3For when I kept silent, my(E) bones wasted away through my(F) groaning all day long. 4For day and night your(G) hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up[b] as by the heat of summer. Selah 5I(H) acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, "I(I) will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah 6Therefore let everyone who is(J) godly offer prayer to you at a time when you(K) may be found; surely in the rush of(L) great waters, they shall not reach him. 7You are a(M) hiding place for me; you preserve me from(N) trouble; you surround me with(O) shouts of deliverance. Selah 8I will(P) instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will(Q) counsel you with my eye upon you. 9(R) Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with(S) bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. 10(T) Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who(U) trusts in the LORD. 11(V) Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and(W) shout for joy, all you(X) upright in heart! Footnotes: a.Psalm 32:1 Probably a musical or liturgical term b.Psalm 32:4 Hebrew my vitality was changed Cross references: A.Psalm 32:1 : Cited Rom 4:7, 8; Psalm 85:2 B.Psalm 32:1 : Exodus 34:7; John 1:29 C.Psalm 32:2 : 2 Cor 5:19 D.Psalm 32:2 : John 1:47 E.Psalm 32:3 : Psalm 31:10 F.Psalm 32:3 : Psalm 22:1 G.Psalm 32:4 : 1 Sam 5:6, 11; Psalm 38:2 H.Psalm 32:5 : Psalm 51:3 I.Psalm 32:5 : Psalm 38:18; Job 33:27; Prov 28:13; Luke 15:18, 21; 1 John 1:9 J.Psalm 32:6 : Psalm 30:4 K.Psalm 32:6 : Psalm 69:13 L.Psalm 32:6 : Psalm 18:4, 16; 42:7; 69:1; 144:7; Job 22:11 M.Psalm 32:7 : Psalm 91:1; 119:114; Psalm 27:5; 31:20 N.Psalm 32:7 : Psalm 9:9 O.Psalm 32:7 : Psalm 18, title; Exodus 15:1-18; Judg 5:1-31 P.Psalm 32:8 : Psalm 25:8, 12 Q.Psalm 32:8 : Psalm 73:24 R.Psalm 32:9 : Prov 26:3; Job 35:11 S.Psalm 32:9 : James 3:3 T.Psalm 32:10 : Prov 13:21; Rom 2:9 U.Psalm 32:10 : Psalm 34:8; 84:12; Prov 16:20; Jer 17:7 V.Psalm 32:11 : Psalm 64:10; 68:3; 97:12; Psalm 33:1 W.Psalm 32:11 : Deut 32:43 X.Psalm 32:11 : Psalm 7:10 ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I came across this passage this morning while reading and I couldn't help but find such joy in it and share it! I included the cross references as well in case you were wanting to explore into more detail about certain verses. I can totally relate to the Psalmist in verses 1-4 where he is trudging along with this heaviness of the Lord's hand upon him. Have you had to carry the dead weight of someone? Hopefully not like a body-bag-dead-weight, but you know, when you are just playing around and you collapse and someone has to drag you or you have to drag someone? It's horrible! It's so tough! That's what I feel like when I am convicted of something, like this huge person's dead weight has just collapsed upon my back. The Psalmist says, "For when I kept silence, my bones wasted away..." Not only does that conviction of the Holy Spirit weigh a ton, but your insides ache and groan for relief. What a wonderful thing, Amen? What a glorious thing to have the convictions of sin, because I believe it proves all the more of the work of the Lord in our lives! Reread verse 5. Ah! So great! Such a wonderful example of God's faithfulness in forgiving our sins---and this is in the Old Testament, before Christ--so here is somewhat of a glimpse of the grace-giving God that we serve providing forgiveness for one's iniquity. The Psalmist urges those of us who are godly, to offer prayer in time that God is near. Now God is present both in times of living obediently and times of disobedience, but this verse urges us to offer prayer in that moment to reconcile our hearts to God. I used the cross-reference on this verse in Psalm 69:13 which states: "But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness." Offering that prayer of reconciliation with God is so important! We should praise the Lord for his abundance of steadfast love and his saving faithfulness! What a wonderful Father. I love the description of God when the Psalmist says, "You are my hiding place, you preserve me and surround me with shouts of deliverance!" When you look at forgiveness that way, we should rejoice so much more than how we normally react to sin. I don't know about you, but I often find myself continuing to bury my head in the sand when I sin. I hold onto that and continue to beat myself up. I acknowledge that I am forgiven, but I fail to surrender it completely. I understand that we have consequences that may go beyond our prayer of confession, depending upon the authority over us---but why give yourself lashes when it's already been done? Why crucify yourself when Christ has already taken your place. You can recognize the horrific act of Christ dying for you, but also remember, that He is the perfect sacrifice, the perfect Lamb, Atonement for our sins and you trying to make yourself into a mini sacrifice, won't cut it! He's done it! Relate to him, but ultimately see his sacrifice as sufficient, and REJOICE in your forgiveness! I like the promise of verses 7-8 which are from God. They say that he will instruct us in the way we should go and his eye will be upon us. At times, I am one to not like observance of someone. In my internship, we will often have our preceptor go with us and observe our charting or consulting of a patient and you get pretty insecure with her eyes watching you. But there is also rest in it because you know that if you make a mistake, she is there to counsel you, to help you and make sure that you do it right. There is security within the insecurity: dependence upon God to help you. In addition, the verse makes reference to a mule or a horse with a bit. We are to be obedient in those moments of counsel or direction---to not doubt the instructions from God. This is just like when my preceptor says that I need to make this statement in the chart or visit with the patient about this ---if I don't do it, then not only is my preceptor in shock of my disobedience, and that patient may not be getting the best care possible. There is something to be said about being obedient in the moment you are asked to do something: a trust is immediately created and in that trust, God is glorified in your life. Ending this passage, the Psalmist makes the statement that 'many are the sorrows of the wicked.' Do you live in constant sorrow? Is your heart continually troubled? Perhaps you have good reason! Perhaps you are wicked and are in need of surrendering your life to God. But if you have surrendered your life to Christ, maybe you're like me in the sense that you continue to live in light of the sin rather than living in light of the sacrifice. The passage ends with the command to rejoice in God's steadfast love that surrounds those who trust God. Do you trust God? Do you truly believe that He will forgive you? Do you fear yourself more than God? I do sometimes. I have standards set-up in my mind that force me to fear myself more than God: and that's wrong! It's wrong! I am all about recognizing your sin and experiencing that dead weight that is caused by the Spirit's convictions. I think of Luther who use to sleep on the cold, damp floor and roll around in ashes because he recognized his unworthiness before our Righteous and Holy God. Go ahead and recognize your unworthiness, but then rejoice and be glad and shout for joy with an upright heart! You have been forgiven a mighty fine: eternal separation from our loving God. That is something to take joy in!