Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Yesterday I watched a certain video that is currently circulating Facebook.  The base message of this video is that people who share their accounts of visiting/experiencing heaven or hell are liars and are wrong because such experiences are not biblical.

Perhaps that's the harsh synopsis, but I can assure you there was nothing gentle nor kind about the way these things were stated.  It made me angry, partly because of the way the information was presented, but also because I do happen to believe at least some of these accounts, and therefore this video was telling me I am wrong.

Telling me I am wrong about something - I don't receive that well.  But that's beside my current point.

So I've been pondering and thinking the points this speaker made, because while I don't like to be wrong, I recognize that sometimes I am.  And if I am wrong in my beliefs, then I'd like to correct them.  After going back and forth on the different points and arguments, I've come full circle and have not changed what I believed prior to seeing this video.

The speaker presented a biblically-based argument for why no one is able to visit heaven or hell and therefore why we should not believe these stories when we hear them.  And I wondered if he has even personally read any of these books or listened to any of these accounts.  I have done both, and I have at least a few friends who have experienced heaven for themselves.  They are the kind of Christ-followers I look to for leadership and guidance because they possess a spiritual maturity I have not yet attained.  Granted, not everyone's account is going to be true or accurate, and some people are just out to make a buck.  But I don't believe that to be true of everyone.  In fact, it's these people who have experienced God the closest who share their stories the least.  Because they know what happens if they do; they would be casting their pearls before swine.  People will discount them, attack and slander them.  When they come in contact with people whom they know are ready to receive these words, then they share.  They are wise that way.

After all my ponderings from this video, I feel I can defend why the opposite of each of the speaker's statements could be true, and biblically so.  Basically it boils down to this:  who are we to decide how God is going to choose to operate?  I see that happen so many times in our politically-correct, comfortable, don't-want-to-be-challenged church culture.  And we decide for God that if it's not word-for-word in the Bible and if we haven't experienced it for ourselves, then it must not be true.

Just because something is out of our realm of our experiences doesn't mean it's not true.  This stands not just to argue whether or not people have had glimpses into heaven or hell, but into many other aspects of the modern church.  Many congregations are ripped apart over issues such as speaking in tongues, prophesying, healing, music, order of service, style of preaching, color of the carpet...

I grew up in a very traditional, conservative church body.  As a teenager I remember learning about the different spiritual gifts.  The teaching I received pushed the idea that certain gifts no longer exist.  I was even presented with verses (which are often taken out of context to fit the argument) to back up that statement.  And I was confused about what to believe until our pastor said one of the most helpful things I have ever heard:  "God is going to be God, and He is going to do whatever He pleases.  It's not for me to decide how He is going to work."

We live in a world full of lies and deceit.  Some of it even looks identical to the Truth.  But God did not leave us unattended to flounder about helplessly.  He equipped us with what we need to navigate these murky waters.  We are to study the Word and check everything against it.  He also gave us the Holy Spirit who grants us discernment to understand truth from lies.  But even then we are left with many areas.  Which brings us back to the bottom line:

God is God.  He will do what He will do.

"[God] does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him, 'What have you done?'"
~Daniel 4:35

Sunday, April 13, 2014

I'm thinking it's a good thing I didn't commit to daily writings during Lent.  All of a sudden Easter is a week away, and my evenings spent not watching tv were filled with other activities.  I suppose that was sort of the point, but the activities I meant to pursue were instead waylaid by other projects and obligations, and now all of a sudden my time to reflect and prepare for Easter is nearly gone.  Time is a funny thing, an elusive vapor that is forever slipping out of my grasp.

Now I wonder how I will spend my time after Easter is over.  I know how I would typically answer that question.  But then I remember that I'm married (happy six-months to us!) and my decisions are no longer just my own.  We're discovering that our hobbies and interests are not as much the same as we once thought, and that makes finding an answer to my question even more challenging.  I know we have both been weighing these questions of why we do what we do, what eternal value to they possess, and whether or not these things even matter enough to deserve our attention at all.  And then there's the long list of things we know should have priority, yet somehow those are the things that never get done.  Life has a strange tension to it, a balance that, not unlike time, seems to always sit just beyond my grasp.  And before I know it, years have passed and I find myself looking around at my current surroundings, wondering two things:  How in the world did I get here, what?

Ah, life.  My current literal surroundings are a table full of baby plants that need to go in the ground while they instead chase the sun from this side of the window.  Except there's no sun because the temperature has plummeted and instead of the 90-degree heat we had yesterday, now we are waiting for snow.  These poor little guys are not looking nearly as happy as they did in their little greenhouse home, and I hope I can keep them alive for another week until the danger of freezing is past.  But even if it was warm enough, I'm not sure I'd know where to plant them because our yard is torn up and waiting for us to finish this landscaping project that I initially thought would take two hours, not two months.

But, next few days aside, spring is here and the sun is shining again and I am happy and content to be outside again.  A lot is happening, and it's an exciting season of life.  God is good.  All the time.

Monday, March 31, 2014

For many years I've pondered this verse and wondered why I've never seen it fulfilled:  "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these..." (Jn 14:12).  Jesus is telling His disciples that anyone can do the same miracles He did.  Not just those miracles, but even greater things!

So...what's the hang up?  Why don't Christians get these results?  Where are all the miracles Jesus has promised?  I know some will explain it away by saying this applied only to the disciples, or things don't work that way anymore, or this or that or some other reason.  But that's not good enough for me.  Because those reasons only raise more questions.  Hebrews 13:8 says "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."  Jesus hasn't changed, not in identity nor in the way He does things.  Instead, I think it's we who have changed, who try to adapt Jesus to fit our lifestyle rather than changing our lifestyle to look like Jesus.

Here is what I know to be true.  Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Mt 28:18).  Search the word "authority" in the New Testament sometime and see what happens.  The number of times it appears is a little overwhelming.  Jesus didn't keep this authority to Himself, but on two occasions delegated it to His followers.  First He sent out the Twelve with "power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick" (Lk 9:1-2, emphasis mine).  After that Jesus sent out seventy-two with similar orders in Luke 10.

I also know this to be true:  I am a child of God by the blood of Christ.  Not just a child, but an "heir - heir of God and co-heir with Christ" (Rom. 8:17).  Not only that, but Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to live in me, "the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead" (Rom. 8:11).  The Spirit who raised the Lamb of the God of the universe from the dead freakin' lives in me!  On my own I have no power.  But I have the authority to exercise the very power of God.  Not only me, but every believer in Christ has this authority!

So I go back to my original question:  What's the hang up?  I think most believers in our culture have been blinded by the enemy to this knowledge.  And it's easy to skim past the parts of Scripture that don't make sense, the ones that raise hard questions that fly in the face of traditionalism.  But I don't want to do that anymore.  God is working with me on some of these issues and questions, and I'm learning and growing and practicing stepping out in faith so He can grow me even more.  Because I truly believe there is so much more to our faith walks than we even know.  God is all-powerful, and I don't want to miss out on whatever He has to offer me.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Matt and I recently embarked on a new get-healthy journey.  So far it seems to be going well and I'm really quite enjoying it.  I've been on many lose-weight journeys in my life, and this one is proving to be different in several ways.  In the past, I've used every ounce of sheer will-power I could muster to count calories and eat healthy and exercise.  And so far I've had a 100% failure rate.  Don't get me wrong, I usually saw the results I wanted, at least for a time.  But sheer will-power stretches only so thin before it snaps and all is undone.

I can't commit yet for sure to say this will be the one success that will last for my lifetime.  However, a few things are different this time around.  Most notably, I didn't change anything about my diet or exercise.  Instead, I started taking supplements, vitamins, and other good-for-me things consistently.  And having these good-for-me things in my body is changing me.  My cravings are different, my tastes are changing, and it's easy and natural to make healthy decisions.  It's exciting, to say the least.

This morning Psalm 37:4 caught my attention:  "Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart."  And the truth of these words clicked into place just a little more.  Because as I fill my life with the spiritual good-for-me things, my desires will change.  My appetite will transform from the things of this world to the things of my God.  And as my desire for Him increases, so will my delight in Him.  As I delight in Him I will desire the things He desires, and I will ask for them and He will give them to me.  It begins a cycle that draws me closer to His heart, and that is the place I want to be more than anywhere else.

"Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him."
Psalm 37:4-7

Saturday, March 15, 2014

This week held a few twists and turns I didn't see coming, and quite frankly, I would much rather have done without those surprises.  It's landed me in a place of confusion and pain, and I think the hardest part about it is I can't really do much of anything to make it better.  I've been reminded of the power words can wield and it's caused me to pause from my Lenten writings long enough to re-evaluate why I'm doing this in the first place.  And as I weed through all the thoughts and questions and doubts, I come back to my baseline of this:  God is leading me on an incredible journey of spiritual growth right now, and for this season of Lent I've committed to more time in prayer and the Word while He is working in my heart.

I've wondered this week if it's worth the price tag I didn't see attached when I committed.  It's costing me more than I ever bargained, and had I seen that coming I probably wouldn't have done it.  It's too late to undo anything, but what I don't see yet is how it all works out in the end.  There is beauty in the pain, and right now that looks like desperate hope and faith clinging with both arms around the neck of my Savior.  He is good, and His ways are good, and I have no choice but to trust Him through this.  Without Him there is no hope and all is lost.  But I am refusing to believe that, maybe if for no other reason than the alternative feels too much to bear.  

There is a prayer I've been praying with a certain end result in mind.  It's another thing I'm trusting God for, but what I didn't expect was the process He might use to get to that end.  I cannot survive this process without these truths:  my hope is in Him alone, His word will not return to Him empty but will accomplish what He desires, and when the process is complete I will find that I would not trade a single tear or ounce of pain for my joy that will be made complete in Him.  It is these times in the valley that strengthen and build, refine and purify to bring forth a harvest of my own soul.  The days ahead are scary and I don't know what they hold, but I know my God and He holds me.  That will be enough.

"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;
and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David....
Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
'For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,'
declares the LORD.
'As the heavens are higher than the earth, 
so are my ways higher than your ways 
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and snow come down from heaven, 
and do not return to it without watering the earth...
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty, 
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace..."
Isaiah 55

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I had a conversation via text tonight with a dear friend of mine who lives too far away.  She shared with me how she was recently able to share the gospel with a woman whom God had placed on her heart.  I then told her about a new friend of mine whom God has placed on my heart and the ministry I've been able to have with her.  And I realized how incredibly amazing it is that God is using each of us in this way.  My friend and I could have just as easily not had these stories to share, because it's all too convenient to tune out that still small voice of conviction and stick to what's comfortable.

My friend said she got nervous when she started sharing about Jesus.  I remember shaky hands and voice when I first reached out to my new friend.  It would have been easier to stay quiet.  Safer to say nothing at all.  But how very glad we are that we didn't!

These two women in our lives, they welcomed our words, our friendships.  We are relieved...and blessed.  Oh so blessed!  Obedience and blind faith reap reward on so many levels.  I now have a new friend I didn't have a few months ago, and each time we meet together my heart overflows with encouragement.  I am beyond grateful for her hunger for the Lord and filled with joy that He is allowing me to disciple her.  This journey is exciting and rewarding.  And I would have sorely missed out had I kept my mouth shut when I felt the Spirit's prompting.

This same friend I talked with tonight, we started out in a similar way a few years ago.  I stepped out in faith and asked if she would allow me to disciple her.  That relationship has grown and thrived in ways I never saw coming.  My life is richer because of it.  The same is true with my new friend, and I can't wait to see where God takes it from here.  And I realize how much I don't want to miss future opportunities from Him.  This will be my prayer:  Lord, cast off all fear and resistance that comes with stepping out in faith and obedience.  Open my ears to hear Your voice and grant me an eagerness to act on what You say.  Spirit, fill me with courage and confidence, and may all these things overshadow the weakness of my fallen flesh.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Tonight at Bible study we talked about the different ways we run from and avoid God.  I posed a question I have asked myself many times:  If I want to know Him better, which means being in the Word and in prayer, then why don't I do it?

Sometimes we are afraid of what He might ask us to do, so it's easier to avoid the silence and keep our hands over our ears.  Other times it's easier to feed our flesh with entertainment, busyness, and sleep rather than making the harder choice to feed our souls.  And sometimes we become so far removed from Him we don't even recognize our need.

I've been convicted of this for several months now, and our discussion tonight made me realize it's time to finally do something about it.  I want to grow and know Him more. I want to hear and recognize His voice, to receive knowledge and insight into His Word.  I want Him to be my everything.  I know He's waiting for me.  Now it's up to me to do my part and meet Him there.  So tonight I'm going to set my alarm clock a little extra early to do just that.  Mornings are rough for me.  In fact, waking up is usually the worst part of my day.'s time.  I want everything He has for me, and He's been asking me to do this for a while.  I'll do my part, and I'll trust Him to provide the rest.

"My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When can I go and meet with God?"  -Psalm 42:2

Saturday, March 8, 2014

As I type this, it's been four years - almost to the minute - since my dad's homegoing.  It's funny how I can't usually remember what happened yesterday, but I can still see, hear, and feel almost every detail of that night.  It's etched and seared in my memory for the rest of my days.

Every March 8th my family gathers at the farm for dinner and a trip out to the old country cemetery just north of the house.  Just for a brief moment tonight as we left the driveway to visit his grave, I thought it strange that his body lays less than a mile from home while life goes like it always does for the rest of us.  And how much life has happened in four short years!  When dad died, there were four of us surrounding his hospital bed.  Tonight we numbered six standing around his grave.  He would have thoroughly enjoyed and been so proud of his baby granddaughter and new son-in-law.  I know he took joy in us as we were at the time, but how much more he would have felt with these two new additions to our family!

It's true, the saying that heaven becomes more real after a loved one goes there.  Heaven has never been more real to me than four years ago tonight when I drove home from the hospital.  The transition from this temporary life into the glorious eternal one is a beautiful mystery.  I eagerly await and anticipate the day I can shed this earthly body and step into my forever life.  No more fear or worry, brokenness or shame.  Only joy and love.  And Jesus.  Just Jesus.  Because of his body broken and blood poured out for me, I live.  I have hope, and I have life.

"Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?"  -1 Cor. 15:55

Thursday, March 6, 2014

I asked a friend today why Catholics don't eat meat on Fridays during Lent.  She referred me to Google.  So that's what I did.  Googled.

Bare bones bottom line:  Abstaining from meat is a way to pay penance.

That moment when you discover what you're doing doesn't line up with your faith...

Let me state up front that I am not bashing, criticizing, judging, or doing anything else negative toward Catholics.  I have very good friends who are Catholic and I know Christians who are Catholic.  But I also realize that not all Catholics are Christians, just as not all Baptists, Methodists, or Presbyterians are Christians.  Many church-goers, regardless of their denomination, are merely religious.  They follow all the rules, hit all the man-made marks.  But they miss the relationship.  And that's where this information of penance fell for me.  Making the mark.  Missing the point.

And I thought about all the people in the world who are giving things up for Lent.  Things like meat, chocolate, sugar, soda, social media, and television.  How many of us have a reason for doing it, and how many are doing it just because it's the religious thing to do?  How many are doing it to try to make up for their sins?  How many even know that's why the tradition started in the first place?

Praise Jesus for bearing my sins on the cross and paying my penance for me!  Praise Him for being my penance!  There's not a single thing in this world that could ever repay Him, that can ever wipe away the permanent stain of my sin.  Only His blood can make me clean, can allow me to stand in the holy presence of Yahweh and be declared righteous.

That said, I'm still giving up television.  Not because I'm trying to prove something or make Him like me more, but to know Him more and sync my heart with His.

"You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water."  -Psalm 63:1

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My Journey Through Lent

Lent begins today.  It's not something my church practiced when I was a child, and I don't know all the ins and outs, the dos and don'ts, the rights and wrongs.  I don't wear ashes on my forehead or eat fish on Fridays (or ever, for that matter).  I've participated in Lent one other time.  So I'm certainly nothing special in this realm of life.

But this I do know.  God is working in my life right now in huge ways.  I am learning and growing in ways I haven't experienced in years.  How I choose to spend my time is determining how much I allow God to teach me.  I spend too much time seeking my own pleasures and almost no time seeking Him.  I am tired of my complacency and I want more.  More of Him, more of His power, more of His Spirit.  I want to live mightily and fearlessly.  I want to see Him work miracles through me.  I want to hear His voice and walk so closely with Him that our conversation never stops.  I want to be fully prepared to celebrate Easter, because it's the reason my life has meaning and joy and fulfillment.  I know all too well that if I'm not careful, it will be here and gone with nothing more than a Sunday morning service.  I want to anticipate.  Contemplate.  Feel.  Hear.  Embrace.  Experience.

This is my journey for the next forty-some days.  I am giving up watching tv at home and replacing that time with blogging, praying, seeking, reading.  I am at a crossroads and have been for quite some time.  I can see what is before me, but I won't get there until I die to self and run forward, casting off to the right and left everything that hinders.  Until I immerse myself in the Word and in prayer, I won't reach the full spiritual potential for which God has created me.  He has equipped me recently with everything I need for this journey.  I know I'm not going to get it right all the time.  I'm going to mess up, not do enough, be enough, say enough.  But oh, His grace!  I am committing to set my eyes on Him, take one feeble step after another, and let Him do the rest.  I am desperate not to miss this.


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