Wednesday, April 23, 2014

On Being a Mess

In my daily Bible reading, David has just become king over all Israel. He has had a tough life thus far, but I know the end of the story. It only gets tougher. And a good portion of it is his own fault.

David is a liar, an adulterer, a murderer, and a horrible parent. Sometimes his specific actions don’t look much better than those of other kings. Yet he is remembered as being the “man after God’s own heart.” How in the world is that possible?

David was a mess. He made mistakes right and left. He hurt not only himself but others around him. But every step of the way, David was repentant. And that, my friends, is why he is so highly regarded in Scripture.

David truly loved God. He didn’t always obey God. But he always came back around to desperately craving a restoration of his relationship with the Lord. He knew when it was severed, and he knew how critical it was to have that tear mended.

This is why I love the story of David so much. You see, I’m a mess too. I say the wrong thing on a daily basis. I mess up in my marriage. I mess up with my kids. I mess up as a pastor’s wife or an employee. I want to be right and perfect, but my pride usually knocks me flat on my face instead. I lust after things of this world instead of after my Savior. I let my focus be pulled in a myriad of directions. I allow addictions to things other than Christ to dictate my life.

Yet through it all, there is one thing I know: I hunger for a solid relationship with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I do not take it as an excuse to continue living as a mess as long as I repent afterward. I instead take it as a sign of hope - hope that even this messy life can point to the glory of my magnificent Savior!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Book Review: One Realm Beyond

My oldest has discovered a surprising love for writing. She also loves to read books fantasy. So, in exchange for getting to be the first to read this new fantasy novel sent to us for review, she agreed to write the review! Works for me!

One Realm Beyond is a fantasy book, the first in a trilogy, about a world with many different realms that are connected by portals. The portals can only be seen by specially chosen people called realm walkers. Cantor, a young realm walker, is ready to begin his journey through the realms. But the realm walkers are no longer trusted and cruelty and deceit preside over the realms.

I enjoy fantasy in general, but this book is fantastic! Donita K. Paul makes me feel like I am working right alongside the characters. I am drawn into another world with Cantor and his friends. The plot is carefully woven. It isn’t confusing, but you never know what happens next. The book seems to end, but it leaves just enough trailing ends to make you plead for the next book.

This book has only one con. The plot is shallow enough that it seems like a fast read, but there are very tiny details that are essential to the plot. If you don't read slowly, you miss it and struggle with the plot later on.

I would suggest this book for weaker readers eleven and up. Stronger readers, nine and up is great. Don't let this book just sit on your shelf if you can help it. Dive in!

This book was sent to us by BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Hold Up My Hands

I love to pray for others. I really do. I love it when they share specific requests that I can bathe in prayer. Hearing the praises delights me.

It’s a little harder, though, to turn that around. I don’t want to come across as whiney or as a complainer when sharing a request for myself with someone else. Even though I do not hear their requests that way, for some reason I feel that must be how they hear mine.

But the truth is that there is something beautiful about being on both sides of the help. I see that clearly when I read a story in Exodus 17.

Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought against Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.

Joshua needed the prayer support. No one doubted that. Moses was the great man of God. No one doubted that his prayers would reach the ears of God. And at that time, that was a big deal. After the fall, man no longer had the direct ear of God. The Holy Spirit did not remain upon every Israelite. Only certain people were privileged to have that direct connection. Moses was one of the few.

But what is most beautiful is that even Moses needed help in this endeavor. He could not do it on his own. He needed the help of Aaron and Hur.

Because we look back to the cross instead of anticipating it, we all have the same direct connection to God that Moses did. But we have something else in common with him. We need help.

How often do we seek that help? How often do we offer it? It is often easier to be Aaron and Hur to someone else, but we also need to remember to allows others to be that help to us.

I have so much to learn about living in community with other believers. It is easy to forget that my personal, individual relationship with Christ is also bound up in a body of believers. I need those other believers. And they need me. Just as Joshua, Moses, Aaron, and Hur all contributed to the defeat of Amalek, so we must come together as a body to stand against our challenges and battles in this world.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Look to the Cross

As I prepared yesterday’s Sunday school lesson, I got stuck on a verse. It was not the focal verse. But I got stuck on it anyway.

The people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.” Numbers 21:5

Do you see the contradiction here? We have no food…well, really it’s that we loathe this miserable food.

We have no water…well, except for all the water that You have provided every step of the way, Lord.

Most of the complaints of the children of Israel are met with Moses crying out to the Lord, the Lord providing the need, and then some sort of reminder from the Lord that He really is in charge and that whining is not acceptable.

This time, though, God just skips all of that and sends snakes to torment and kill the people. Why? Because this time there was not a real need. This time they were just complaining about what God had already given them. They are saying that God’s provision and care for them are insufficient. How do I know this? Check out verse four.

Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. Numbers 21:4

So, why did I get stuck here? Because I am guilty of the same type of complaining. I behave with the same level of impatience.

It does not matter that God has always provided. If the provision is not here right now, I get agitated.

It does not matter that I have plenty all around me. If I do not have exactly what I am craving right now, I get irritable.

It is so easy to judge the Israelites for their childish behavior until we look in the mirror and analyze our own actions. How are we any different?

I am truly thankful that God does not send poisonous snakes to remind me of my selfishness. I do not have to look at a bronze serpent to survive. But I do have to look at the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself made that comparison in John 3:14-15.

When I look to the cross, my perspective changes. I see a reminder of what my selfishness did. It crucified my Savior. His blood dripped for my bad attitude. My complaining. My accusations that what God has done is not enough.

This week Christians everywhere naturally look to the cross as we walk through Holy Week. But do we really see it? Does it truly affect our thoughts and behavior? Does it make a difference in our whining and complaining? In our attitudes? In our selfishness?

It is so easy in our culture to get bogged down with the pressure of making sure everyone has just the right Easter clothes. We need to find the right Easter baskets, make sure to squeeze in an egg hunt, and hustle to finish all of the cooking for that Easter meal. It is easy to forget to really look to the cross this week. We let the serpents continue to chip away at our attitudes, bringing death to our celebration while we refuse to look up and be healed.

Will you look to the cross with me this week? Really look? Somehow I think that, if we do, all of the other mess will fade away. I have been so distracted by that mess. I am ready for it to fade away. Will you join me?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Urgency vs. Purpose

It is so easy to get caught up in the urgent. Do you know what I mean? We wake up each morning with thoughts about how we will spend the day. Then those little pesky things pop up, driving us to and fro. We come to the end of the day exhausted, having done and done and done and done. But when we look back, we never are really sure what it is we’ve truly accomplished.

Recently, my boss encouraged me to sit down and divide my work week into percentages. What needs to be given the highest priority? What needs to consume the least amount of time. I realized that the things that should take the least amount of time usually consume the most. Those that should consume most of my time often are given just a few moments here and there as an afterthought in the busyness of each day.

This is not just how a work day flows. I have lived through enough years without a paying job to know that a regular “mom” day works just the same. Plans are drowned out by demands until the plans seem nonexistent. We just work to survive.

I cannot help but think that God has different intentions for us. But what does it take to get there? How can we move past the survival mode to true purpose? The things that weigh us down and take up so much of our time are always going to be there. How can we thrive despite those distractions?

When I evaluated my work last week, I was reminded of the purpose of my role with Home Educating Family. I was reminded of what was most important. And I began to consciously process how to deal with the time-stealers that prevented me from accomplishing my purpose.

The same principle applies to our spiritual lives. There are things that must be done, of course. We must get up and face our duties for the day, whether they send us to an office, a field, a computer screen, a wrestling with children at home, or any other destination. But we do not have to allow those things to distract us from our true purpose.

So, what is our purpose? We were created to glorify God and relate to Him personally. How do we live that out each day? Well, that is where our individual personalities comes into play. I cannot tell you how glorifying God will look in your day. But I can tell you that you and I must both be very intentional about making sure it happens.

It is so easy to get caught up in the mundane. So easy to be trampled by the urgent. So easy to come to the end of a day, week, month, or even year and see that nothing has truly been accomplished.

Could it be that our goals are wrong? Could it be that we are too focused on survival to truly accomplish anything?

As this week closes, I encourage you to stop and think about your purpose. What distracts you from it? How can you fulfill that purpose without neglecting the necessary obligations that come up each day?

Finally, how can you merge those obligations with your purpose, honoring God in every action?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Ready to Listen

Every morning, I get out of bed and gather devotional resources. I read devotions from a variety of authors. I follow a daily Bible chronological Bible reading from a plan that the whole church is working through this year. And I use Journibles to copy daily passages from Proverbs and either Psalms or John. This is my daily routine.

Lately, though, it has become just that: a routine. Something to check off my list. I do glean from it. I do grow from it. But, I’m not digging deeply through it. In fact, I have not even pulled out my blank journal in quite some time.

As I sat down one day last week to start my reading, a question ran through my mind. Was I truly ready to listen? Actively listen? Or was I simply ready to take whatever happened to jump out at me as I read?

Unfortunately, I think the latter came closer to the truth. I was not prepared to dig. I was ready for a snack, not the deeply satisfying meal God desired to offer from His Word.

Immediately, I got up and grabbed my long-neglected journal. Opening it up, I wrote out a confession of my laziness. My negligence. My satisfaction with snacking to take the edge off instead of digging deep to truly fill my hungry soul.

Then I prepared to actively listen, pen in hand.

What does active listening look like for you? What is the difference between snacking and truly dining in your relationship with Christ? Each of us interacts with Him according to the personality He created. So, active listening will look very different for you than it does for me. How do you accomplish it in your life?

I cannot say that the daily lessons have been fantastically different as I have renewed my commitment to actively listen. I don’t know that more has jumped off the page for me. But my spiritual ear is being retrained. My heart and mind are once again hungering for more than a snack. And my excitement for the Word is deepening again.

What about you? Are you ready to listen today?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Part of the Plan

Monday hit me full force this morning. Getting back to waking up on time after several days of sleeping in. Allergies burning my eyes, filling my throat with gunk, and making my head fill like it weighs a ton. Hovering over me with a gloom as heavy as the clouds that hide the sun today. Filtering through my attitude and my ability to mentally process or respond well to my family.

Knowing that the day would be full and that I needed to be up and about gave me motivation, but not inspiration. I knew I would do it because I had to. But I also knew I would welcome the end of the day.

I worked through my devotional reading and pulled out my prayer journal. Staring at the prayer list, I could hardly process the requests that needed prayer this morning. In desperation, my heart cried, “Lord, help me know how to pray through this fog!”

You know, I think the Lord smiles every time we ask Him to help us pray. For some reason, the God of the universe wants a relationship with me. I know it to be true. I see it throughout Scripture. But it still blows my mind every time. He wants me to pray because He wants a relationship with little old me. Sluggish me. Ornery me. Agitated me. Whiney me. He wants me to come to Him in prayer.

But there is more to it than that. He wants me with Him all day. And when my heart called out to Him this morning, that is exactly what He showed me.

God has a perfect plan for this day, Monday though it may be. He can accomplish His plan with or without me. But do you know what He desires? He desires that I be a part of it. And it all starts when I intentionally go beyond that prayer list and seek His heart through prayer.

Next comes obedience. Rejoice in the Lord always. Think on these things. Pray without ceasing. All of the things that will take my Monday attitude and turn it into a focus on Christ that does not care what day of the week it is.

That obedience ushers me in, allowing me to focus on His plan for this day. And that is where He wants me to be. The mind-boggling, overwhelming truth is that He wants me!

It is still a Monday. The allergies are still burning my eyes, I still want a nap, and the clouds are still gloomy. But this day is the Lord’s, and He wants me to be a part of His plan. That, my friends, is inspiration enough for me.