Monday, August 9, 2010

Storms and Blessings

Very few if any people walk through life without experiencing some kind of storm. Death of people, of marriages, or dreams come to everyone. Sickness, suffering, hurt. People act in ways that do not reflect the God that made them. So many possible storms.

I am finding more and more that what we see as storms are really God pouring out blessings that we just can't see. I am certain that when I get to heaven God is going to show me my life and where my storms are, I am going see that God was throwing a pebble (or sometimes a mountain) into my life that creates an endless ripple of blessings that spread out through the world. Life after life touched that in turn touched others.

But how can I truly know this to be so beyond the anecdotal evidence of my own life. Well I see it in life after life in God's word. For example, I am currently working my way through Genesis (yes, still!). I have just read about Joseph. If someone had storms, it was Joseph- beginning with his father's favoritism and his brother's jealousy (Genesis 37). This leads to his brother's plotting to murder him, but then they decide "nah, let's sell him into slavery instead. And tell our Dad a wild animal got him." That's one heck of a storm to endure. Torn from home and family, betrayed by your family. Anybody else know that feeling? God however brings him to Egypt and into Potiphar's house (Genesis 39). Here his character and faithfulness in being who God calls him to be brings him into the trust of Potiphar. But then another storm comes in the temptation of Potiphar's wife. This woman won't give up. So much so that Joseph has to avoid her. Unfortunately, she eventually catches him alone, he flees from her, and what does she do...lies. Here comes jail. I think I'd be praying "God, really? How much more?" But we don't hear that about Joseph. Instead, we see that he once again shows himself to be trustworthy and is given extra privileges. In the midst of the storm, he is given the opportunity to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh's cupbearer and baker (Genesis 40). What Joseph says comes to pass, but the cupbearer forgets about Joseph for a two whole years. Finally, Joseph is brought before Pharaoh to interpret his dreams (Genesis 41). His revelations move him from a prison inmate to the most powerful man in the world next to Pharaoh. His actions save his family during a time of famine and bring them wealth and for a time a permanent dwelling.

Now despite his father's favoritism, his brother's jealousy, slavery, and imprisonment, God blesses him. Out of the storms, he is blessed with position, wealth, family. In time, he's reunited with his father and brothers. His family is blessed with wealth. They are spared the suffering of the famine. From his brother who is spared comes Christ through which the whole world was blessed.

What does the Bible tell us about OUR suffering?

Rejoice- yes it does say rejoice!
More than that we rejoice in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5 (ESV)
In my own life I have found that when I rejoice in the midst of my suffering, my suffering seems so much less. I take my eyes off myself and rejoice in the work God is doing. (But it's not easy to get to rejoicing.) My pastor once said, "God cares more about your character than your comfort." Comfort in the sense of having an easy life. Well, I'm glad he wants me to be everything he made me to be. I want to be everything he made me to be.

Lest we think God's only about our suffering, the bible also says we have comfort in our afflictions so that we can comfort others.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (ESV)
A dear friend is a testament to this. She is currently struggling through a time of seemingly endless storm and yet I rejoice in the fact that through it all she has been able to comfort others. Her mother has brain cancer and is very ill, she's getting a divorce (I refrain from telling you more as this is ongoing and I don't wish to defame anyone), her grandmother recently died, and her grandfather is dying from skin cancer that has seeped into his brain. However, despite the moments when she begs God to send no more, She's been able to comfort, care for, and counsel a co-worker who has brain cancer. Though she's still enduring the storm of divorce, she's been able to counsel other couples to work on their marriage when they are having similar problems. Others come to her because they see in her a reflection of Christ. She is blessing others because of her storms.

And a final note...The best and worst this world has to offer is nothing in comparison to the reward awaiting us at the end of all this.

For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18 (ESV)
We are going to see God! FACE TO FACE! I can't think of anything more amazing for me. No greater reward.

As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness. Psalm 17:15 (ESV)
Before you start saying, but you just don't understand what I'm going through. You haven't walked a mile in my shoes. YOU ARE RIGHT. I haven't, but I too have had storms. Perhaps not the same as yours, but I have raged and screamed in my suffering at God. Cried with a hoarse voice, a throat swollen with grief, and sobs racking my body... "God, no more!" and "Why me?" and "Why have you forsaken me?" and "What did I do wrong, God?" I have been brought low by my storms. It was in those moments that God drew me close and held me tight. He comforted me, taught me to rejoice, gave me opportunities to comfort others and revealed blessings I had been too blind to see. And now I hope that I can offer you some of the comfort that he has given me.

Our God is a big God. He can take anything you throw at him. It's okay to cry out like David and Jesus "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1a and Matthew 27:46), but realize he's already there waiting on you. He's already shown up, but he won't force you to take his hand. He loves you too much. May God reveal his blessing to you and pour out endless blessings on your life...even in the midst of the storm.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Friend of God

Long time, no post. I've jumped back in where I have left off with Genesis. Today was a deeper study of Abraham and Sarah. This study focused on Genesis 18.

Abraham is called the friend of God in James 2:23. What an amazing appellation! From all that I have already learned about Abraham from studying Genesis, I know he was just a man whose faith in God lead him to do extraordinary things. But I know he was a man with faults who sometimes chose the wrong path as all mankind does. So what was it that made Abraham a friend of God? When we draw near to God, pour out our heart's to him, and then listen as he has listened to us, we find that we too can be the friends of God. In Genesis 18, Abraham stood before the Lord God and he drew near to speak to him. He showed concern for God and shared his concern for others by seeking to intercede for the righteous of Sodom whoever they might be. God listened to Abraham and responded to his words.

I found this to be personally meaningful because I have a burden on my heart. My husband and I have been struggling to have a child for about a year and half now. I know that everything works out according to God's will, but I still feel what I feel. It's hard not to feel the glimmer of hope every cycle, the heartache of finding out your not pregnant, the spark of anger at your lack of control, and finding peace again. I never really thought about taking all those feelings and sharing them with God the way Abraham did. So I'm going to start drawing near to God and pour out what I feel to him. Jesus has made it so that we can go to Father anytime we like and that's what I am going to do.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Selling Your Birthright

I know its been awhile since I've posted and this particular post hits me straight in the heart because its all about trading God for the things of the world.

Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, "Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted." (Therefore his name is called Edom.) Jacob said, "Sell me your birthright now." Esau said, "I am about to die, of what use is a birthright to me?" Jacob said, "Swear to me now." So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. Genesis 25: 29-34 (ESV)
As you read this passage, we see Esau sell his birthright for nothing more than a bowl of stew and a piece of bread. How little Esau thought of his birthright! When you read this what is your first thoughts about Esau? Do you think him a fool? I know when I first read this I thought, "Esau's pretty stupid."

However, if we stop to think, are we really that different from Esau? We have received an eternal birthright from Jesus. Still, many modern Christians treat that eternal birthright like little more than a piece of rubbish. When the things of the world come around offering us temporary fun and pleasure, we conveniently forget God and our faith. Esau sold his birthright to temporarily meet a physical need, but we will sell our eternal birthright for even less.

Certainly, I am a prime example of this frivolous nature. I know that I should have a quiet time with God everyday, but some days I would rather watch TV, play a video game, Facebook, read a book, go shopping, sleep, or, shockingly, clean the house. What are these things going to give me in eternity that a relationship with the Creator of the Universe, my Father, my Savior is somehow less? I sell my birthright for frivolous temporary things. Esau a fool? Oh, no, Dixie is the fool!

This struggle is not mine alone. My friends, my student small group, and my parents have all struggled with selling their birthright for temporary things. Why are we so willing to sell eternity for the right now? What's so great about the things of this world that we won't fight for the things of the next?

Now, just to clarify, I don't believe that we loose our salvation if we are saved when we fail. No, what I mean when I say we sell our birthright is that we give up our opportunities to experience the Father; to build up a collection of crowns to lay at his feet. I can't imagine how horrifyingly disappointing I will feel when I stand before the God of all creation and know that I have failed him over and over and over. Like Esau when he's tricked out his blessing in Genesis 27, I will weep before him when I am called to account for all the times I sold my birthright for the things of this world. Still, having salvation through His grace, I know forgiveness is mine. In that I can have hope, but it does not lessen the importance of guarding against the world so that I don't sell my birthright.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Snowball Effect- Genesis 13 & 19

(Using The Father of Israel: Trusting God's Promises by John MacArthur)

If you read Genesis 13, you will find that Abram and his nephew Lot are having some problems. They are both wealthy men whose people are starting to quarrel over resources. Abram, being a man of God, offers a choice to his nephew Lot. Let's not fight, my nephew.  Lot, take a look at this land. You choose where you want to go. If you go left, I'll go right.  Abram unselfishly offered his nephew first choice. We see that Lot took complete advantage of the situation.

And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley, and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord. Genesis 13: 10-13 (ESV)
Lot's choice would have an impact on his family and eventually on the nations of the area for years to come. Lot choose the world over God. He moved towards Sodom. In Genesis 19:1, it says, "Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom." This would imply that Lot was member of the elders, a man of authority in Sodom. We find in the same chapter that Lot had a house in Sodom as well. Lot had slowly become a part of a society that was so corrupted that God would wipe it off the face of the Earth.  Still Lot is accounted as righteous in the new testament, and in Genesis 19 he protects the two angels who came to Sodom form the crowd of men which desired to sexually assault him. Lot had made choices that would have long range effects. Though God intercedes for him and his family to get them out of Sodom before the destruction, Lot looses his wealth, his wife, commits incest with his daughters, and fathers two people groups who would war with Abraham's descendants and cause them great suffering. Actions have a way of snowballing out of our control. 

On the other hand, Abram takes the less desirable land which leads him far from the sin of Sodom. He continues to dwell in service to God even though like all men he would stumble from time to time. Because he was not selfish and choose the things of this world but instead to choose to rely on God's faithfulness, Abram becomes the father of the line that leads to Jesus Christ. Through JC the whole world is affected by Abram's actions.

What we see is that our actions can have far reaching impact in the lives of others. We have been warned in the Bible not to love the things of the world though we are in the world.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions- is not from the Father but is from the world. And world is passing along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. I John 2:15-17 (ESV)
It is important that when we are faced with choices that we remember that the path to a life of sin begins with a small step, a single compromise. Its like the Casting Crowns song Slow Fade,
It's a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray 
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It's a slow fade, it's a slow fade
I am reminded of what God said to Cain earlier in Genesis.
"...And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it." Genesis 4:7 (ESV)
Sin is waiting to pounce on our lives like an animal on the hunt. I have three cats and you can tell when they are about to pounce on each other. They pull their legs into position, and all their muscles tense up. Then like a gunshot they are off to pounce on what they think is their unsuspecting prey. That is not always the case though. If the other cat was on guard, then they either escape or defend themselves from the attacker. We have to be on guard against the sin that is crouching ready to pounce on us. We are encouraged to do so.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewel of your mind, that by testing you may discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable, and perfect. Romans 12:2 (ESV)

Keep your heart with all vigilance for from it flows the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23 (ESV)
In Ephesians 6:10-18, we are called to put on the armor of God in preparation for our battle with sin.

Keep in mind that sin has a Snowball Effect. We are not islands in the sea of life, but we are bound together like the blocks of a Jenga (I am sure this trademarked and I most certainly do not own it) game. Choose the wrong block and the whole tower comes crumbling down. We may only touch a few lives, but those lives touch other lives and on and on. Yet like Abram, when we make the right choices that also effects the people around us. Ultimately you have to decide which snow to make your snowball out of- the yellow snow or the white snow.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Faith and Obedience

After over a month stewing in the juices of Genesis 1-11, I am moving on the next section. Beginning at the very end of the geneology in chapter 11 and continuing for the next 13 chapters the bible tells us about Abram (later Abraham), his immediate family, and the consequences of his choices.

At the very beginning of chapter 12, we find that the Lord has spoken to Abram.

Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those that bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed." Genesis 12: 1-3 (ESV)
For whatever reason Abram did not fully obey God's command at first. In Genesis 11: 31, we know that Abram traveled with his father, his nephew, and his wife from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan, but they only made it to Haran. It is only after the death of his father that he continues on his journey to Cannan.

Who was Abram that God would choose him from all the masses of humanity to begin this journey that would eventually lead to the salvation at the cross of Jesus Christ? Was their something special about Abram? In Genesis 6, we know that God choose Noah because he was a righteous man. We find no such distinction in the Bible for Abram when we first meet him. All we know is God said to Abram. Go leave all that you know and do this thing and I will bless you. We should be thankful that God knows the hearts of mankind. Abram, though with shaky steps that sometimes dragged slowly along, stepped out into the unknown. He had faith that the one who had spoken to him would carry through.

His obedience was rewarded by a response from God. When Abram had come to Canaan, God appeared to him and revealed a little more of his plan.

Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. Genesis 12:7 (ESV)
Unfortunately our fears will derail our lives if we let them. Abram though a man of faith took his eyes off the prize when he went into Egypt. During this sad time, Abram lies, basically has prostituted his wife (receives riches/gifts from pharaoh for his wife/sister), and does nothing to retrieve her from Pharaoh's harem. You see he was afraid that the Egyptians would slay him because Sarai was so beautiful even though she was in her 60's at least. He did not remember that the Lord had yet to fulfill his promises so he was not going to die. His faith wavered, but God intervened to get him back on track. He plagued Pharaoh and his house until Sarai was returned to Abram. Abram must have been exceedingly embarrassed as he was standing before Pharaoh being chastised for lying about his wife and doing nothing when Pharaoh took her.

We often forget that God is faithful and that he intends good for us.

And we know that for those who love God all things work for good for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (ESV)
He is there for us when we need him.
The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:9-10 (ESV)
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1 (ESV)
Sometimes it hard to take that first step in faith. We can not see the entire plan that God has for us. Sometimes like Abram, we are called to just go. It's not until we act in obedience to God that he reveals that next step to us. Yet if we continue to sit back in fear, we may miss out on the greatest moment of our lives. God doesn't need you, but he wants you. If Abram had failed the call, God would have found someone else to ensure that the world was blessed. Fortunately, Abram reached out and took the hand of God. He demonstrated his faith by being obedient to the will of God. And as we know (or maybe you don't but stay tuned) through Abram, all the world was blessed. From Abram came the line that lead to Jesus Christ whose sacrifice blessed all the world with freedom from sin.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Grief, Camp, and back to the beginning.

It's been a while since I posted anything.  A lot of things effected this temporary hiatus. I went to visit my family, Matt came home, a horrible grief filled weekend, a week of Camp Whatever, recovering from camp, and finally kicking my self in the metaphorically butt to get back to having a daily time with God.

On the Thursday before I went to Camp Whatever (Lifepoint Youth Camp), I received two horrible phone calls back to back. My best friend from high school, Ami Raymer,  had died from a brain aneurism on Wednesday. I called and left my mom a message telling her I would be coming home for visitation/funeral. She called me back two times in 30 minutes: one to tell me my uncle (my father's twin) had been in a wreck, second time to tell me that he had a heart attack (causing the wreck) and had died. I felt like I had been hit with a brick. A thousand thoughts whirred through my mind and heart. Shock kept me from really grieving. In my mind, I thought did I hear her correctly..."did she really mean Uncle Dan?? Ami really gone?? What should I do about Camp? When would my Uncle's funeral be? Should I just call them and tell them I could not go? Should I make arrangements to get to camp on my own?? What about packing? I need to do laundry. I need to pay all the bills. I need to pack. Do I own enough black skirts/dresses for three days at the funeral home? Oh, God, I need you right now. Oh God...Oh God...what do I do?" 

I did go to camp after a very grief filled weekend. I was weary heart, mind, body, soul, but I got up after 4 hours of sleep Monday morning and finished packing, vomiting & etc. (to nasty to say) from a horrible IBS flare up, and went to camp.  

Some people might say why did you go? I'm sure they would have understood if you had said you couldn't. I had made a promise to myself and to God you see. Not a bargain, but a promise. He has so blessed me in life that I can quit my job in the middle of an economic crisis, and I have not been doing a very good job in the service department of his kingdom. I had said I am going to give you all these things that are on my heart God about my job and my future, and I am going to spend the month of June focusing on you, preparing my heart for you, and I am going to go to Camp Whatever and serve you. I gave this promise with out any expectation of return other than it bringing glory to God. What more do I deserve really and truly!

So I went weary in ways I can not even give words to...and God healed my grief and restored my soul. He gave me a heart for some of the most troubled and beautiful (inside and outside) young women I have ever met. I was blessed in my grief and loss because I was faithful. I came  out of camp physically weary, but made whole.

It's taken me about a week to finally get over being lazy and get back to my study of God in the words of Genesis. Today I wrapped up the first 11 chapters in the guides I am using. Even though my Bible is already filled with notes about those chapters, I had new insights to add and new connecting verses to note in what space I could find. Now I am about to tackle the story of Abraham. God had been revealing the inner workings of his heart to me. I hope you will continue to take the journey with me.

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God  except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might  understand the things freely given us by God. I Corinthians 2: 10-12 (ESV)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Round and Round

I think I may have mentioned in my first post that my goal is to not just read the word of God, but to dig in deep and really get the word of God. So in light of that goal I decided to start with Genesis and move slowly, methodically, with deliberating seeking of God's revelation.

I am still working my way through the first few books of Genesis because of this.

I went to McKay's yesterday in order to get some more books/perspectives/interpretations on what I have been reading- Some I agree with, some that make my head spin around and around because it is really deep/intense/wordy, and some that just connect it with me and the larger picture of the Bible.

At times I feel like I've stepped in a quagmire and yet at other times I feel like God is using all of this to deepen my faith. Challenges make me think about why I believe what I believe.  If I disagree with a perspective I am finding that I now have verses (even when I can not specifically name them) that I have read that can back up what I think.

Even though I am not posting everyday, I feel like I am stewing, simmering, soaking,  and absorbing the word. I challenge you to do the same.