Tag Archives: Christianity

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

My pastor recently introduced me to the S.O.A.P. Bible study method and, as I’m enjoying it quite a bit, I thought I’d share some of what the Lord’s been teaching me. Hope you enjoy!

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Scripture

Philemon 6

‘…and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective though the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake.’

Observe

There are good things in me which have been placed there for me to use in the service of the King. In order to use them, I need to know about them, what they are and how they work. These are gifts that the Lord has placed in me that I can then turn back into praise by using them for Him. The more I know about them, the more effective they are. They come into effect when I am fellowshipping with other believers or when I am witnessing through my testimony.

Application

I know my heart; the only thing that’s good in me is Jesus. Whatever gifts, talents, skills, etc. I have the privilege of utilizing for His kingdom are actually His works being done through me. And since the only good thing in me is Jesus, and since I need knowledge of every good thing which is in me, then to effectively serve Him, I need to know Him. The deeper I go in my understanding of Christ, the more I can recognize His works in me and get out of the way so He can shine. But how do I gain greater knowledge of Him?

Here’s my thought: they say that going through trials – the really rough stuff – shows you what you’re made of. Adversity gets to the heart of who I am as a person and shows me the good, the bad, and the ugly. So when I’m in the storm, I get to see how much of me is made of Jesus, basically, how much of my heart I’ve given over to Him. The good. I also get to see the bad, how much of my heart I’m keeping for myself. Then there’s the ugly, which is tricky because life is messy, but beautifully so. And the more ashes I have, the more God can turn into beauty. So that ugly can be either category; I can hand it over to the Lord or try to beautify it myself.

Trials – the ugly – are the perfect opportunities to learn more about my Savior and how to be more like Him, because they bring everything home to my core and I get to see what makes my own heart tick. The more I learn, the more I know God, the more effectively He can use me for His Kingdom.

Prayer

Father, thank you so much for faithfully afflicting me. Thank you for loving me as I am, messy as I am. Please don’t let me stay here. Please search me and know my heart, show me my sins and help me to overcome them. Please show me the areas where You are at work in me and fill me with even more grace to let you have more control. And thank you for all the ugly and for the plans You have to give beauty for ashes. In your precious name I pray, Amen.

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What Mary, Joseph, and Mulan Taught me About Regrets

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Mary and Joseph (wonder why) and one thing that struck me for the first time was that they must have felt terrible when Jesus was born.

Think about it. Mary, who is legally bound to Joseph, becomes pregnant before the wedding day. Joseph, instead of divorcing her quietly, as he was tempted to do, takes her public shame and covers it with marriage. Now, not only does Mary look bad for being pregnant, but people are probably looking at Joseph and thinking either he sinned and the Child is his, or he has no problem with Mary’s apparent sin and is guilty by association.

I’m sure they were the biggest scandal to hit their town in quite a while.

Then Joseph and Mary make the long journey to Bethlehem and end up spending the night in the stables with the animals, where Mary goes into labor.

If I were in their shoes, I would have panicked. Mary has known this whole time that she is carrying the Messiah and Joseph has just had a confirming dream. They must be feeling overwhelming pressure. And they end up in a situation where the King of kings, the Savior of the world, is going to be born in the hay, amidst animal droppings and half chewed food.

Joseph and Marry must have wondered where they went wrong.

Their circumstances were as far from ideal as it gets. They must have wanted to give so much more to God. They must have expected it to be so much more glorious than it was.

If I were them, I would have felt like I’d let God down, by allowing His Son to be born in such a place, to disgraced parents, with nobody caring about the birth except for a few shepherds.

I think we all feel like that from time to time. We sit down and sing the shoulda’/coulda’/woulda’s, tasting the bitter regret of having failed God.

I know I have. I’ve sacrificed a lot to be where I am today. Only, where I am isn’t where I expected to be. Not even close.

I feel like I let God down. I expected my sacrifices to produce something so glorious for Him. My struggles in obedience, my striving to do His will… it all seems empty now. I wonder where I went wrong.

When we feel God’s calling on our lives, we start to dream big. We think of all the things we want to do for Him, all that we want to accomplish for His Kingdom. But the accolades we plan are not what matter to God.

I’m going to do something completely uncharacteristic now and quote Disney, because it’s what popped into my head as I was writing this. In the movie Mulan, a young woman sets out to bring her family honor and ends up saving China. But when she returns home and offers the Emperor’s gifts to her father, he throws them aside and tells her, “The greatest gift and honor, is having you for a daughter.”

Day 21-favorite quote

God prizes people.

God is after you. He is after your heart. He is after your love and obedience. He wants to be your Dad.

The successes and honors of this world mean nothing to Him. He planned for His Son to be laid in a manger, instead of in a palace. He planned for me to write this to an audience of 100+ instead of 100,000+.

He does not value the things of this world like we do. He values us.

So if you, like me, are harboring regrets, let them go and grab hold of God.

Because you are all He’s ever wanted. And by making Him all you want, you bring Him glory.

 


The Christmas Scandal

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A scandal has arisen in the UK over the release of a Christmas commercial by Sainsbury Grocery. The commercial (which can be viewed here) spends about 3 minutes depicting the Christmas Truce of 1914, with the end goal of selling chocolate.

Apparently, people are upset that such an extraordinary event should be used for advertising purposes… which, let’s be honest, is a tad ironic given that the whole season – one said to celebrate the birth of Christ – is basically one be advertisement at this point. (Yes, I’m Charlie Brown, I admit.)

However, I’m very grateful to this ad and its controversy because it stopped me dead in my tracks and caused me to look at the Jesus’ advent in a way I never had before.

We all know (some have experienced) the trauma of childbirth for the mother, but I think few of us really reflect on the trauma the child goes through.

Everything the baby has ever known about safety and warmth and care is suddenly ripped away as the poor little infant is squeezed slowly through the birth canal.

He then emerges into a world of lights and sounds and cold that is completely foreign and uncomfortable. The baby experiences hunger for the first time, and cold, and weakness.

He is totally and completely helpless, too frail to even lift his own head and completely at the mercy of the strange giants around him. He can’t communicate his needs or desires through anything other than plaintive wails.

He is completely helpless.

Now picture the Almighty Creator of the Universe, Perfect and Holy God condescending to put Himself through this.

Condescending to experience pain, hunger, weakness, shame, rejection, betrayal, helplessness… in short, humanity, in all its splendor.

I don’t know where theologians stand with this, but I personally believe that Jesus was fully conscience of His God state in the midst of this event.

And He suffered through all this completely blamelessly, totally undeservedly.

From the Lord’s side of things, His birth was more unjust, more scandalous than anything that has happened or ever could happen here on earth, in war time or in peace.

And yet He submitted to it willingly, for your sake and for mine.

Every year, we hear a lot about ‘the reason for the season’ and words like ‘gratitude’ and ‘greatest gift’ get bandied about. I feel like this discussion has grown stale, and we don’t stop often enough to think about what it is that we are actually grateful for.

We’ve been told that Jesus died for our sins, but how often do we stop to think about how He lived for them? If you ponder the physical side of humanity, it can be stated that we begin to die as soon as we’re born, so Jesus’ death really began with His birth.

I like the commercial above. The company uses the word ‘share,’ but what I see is sacrifice. And maybe that’s what this season is really all about, the opportunity to truly reflect on the Sacrifice that was made on our behalf, and the chance to look around for opportunities to make sacrifices on behalf of others.

(Originally published 12/1/2014)


Good Gifts

 

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I think that sometimes people can have a misconception of the term ‘good gifts’ as used in the Bible. When we look at what society terms ‘the good life’ and look at the lives that many Christians lead, there can be cause for some confusion.

I’m reading through Isaiah right now and right in the midst of all the terrifying prophesies of doom and destruction, I came across Is.30:18a:

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion.

It is such a beautiful reminder of God’s infinitely gracious heart. Even though His children have rebelled against Him time after time and refused to repent, He still longs to forgive them and show them His mercy and goodness.

A major aspect of the Gospel message is that God is offering forgiveness; an escape from judgment and assurance of heaven.

But I think a commonly held opinion here on earth is that if we repent and start living ‘good Christian lives,’ then God is obliged to stop ‘punishing’ us and start ‘rewarding’ us in the here and now. What we can fail to realize is that God is reward enough.

Verses like this one can be misconstrued to mean that God wants to give us prosperity here on earth. And while that is certainly true at times (I am by no means trying to deliver a ‘vow of poverty’ message), those earthly rewards should not be the be all and end all.

God loves us and will give us what He knows is best for us. Like a father refusing his child a cookie before dinner, God will not give us things that will harm us, draw us away from Him, or work contrary to His kingdom plans.

The beautiful thing about God is that He is all sufficient. The grace and compassion He offers us is so far and away more than we could ever need or ask for and is so inexhaustible. God really is enough.

All the shinies here are on earth that seem just out of reach to us can lead us to the very wrong, yet still hurtful, conclusion that God is holding out on us. We start to think that He must be punishing us for a sin, or even be taking things away out of cruelty. The end result is that we are left feeling beaten up and poorly cared for.

But God wants to satisfy us. He wants us to find our all-in-all in Him. He desires – even commands – that we live lives full of peace and joy and love. God wants you to be happy but He wants you to find that happiness in Him. Because the world does not satisfy, and it’s weak version of happiness has no staying power.True contentment can only be found in the love of Jesus.

Today, as I look around me, it’s easy to begin compiling a mental ‘wish list’ that I could start praying for. The list can become long and overwhelming very quickly, and I’m often left feeling alone and neglected. Sound familiar?

I want to start focusing more on the Giver than on His gifts. The blessing God offers me of just being His child is more than enough to sustain my short life on earth, regardless of trials and tribulations. The fact that the Almighty Creator of the Universe longs for me to call Him Daddy is all the blessing and gift I could ever need.


We Don’t Have to Worry About Money Any More!

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(Originally Published 9/13/13)

My husband is searching for a job. I was praying about this yesterday because I have a mix of emotions on the subject. One sentence that popped into my prayer (more than once, sadly) was, “Lord, I just don’t want to worry about money anymore.” Every time I said it, I cringed at myself and heard God reply, quite clearly, “Then don’t.”

I seem to think the only way I can have peace of mind in this area, is if we are receiving a hefty income. And after all, as Christians we are called to be wise stewards of our money, so finances are a legitimate concern, right? If I were to stop worrying about money, that would be irresponsible, wouldn’t it?

No, because worry is a sin. I am supposed to trust God with everything. I’m supposed to believe that He can handle the responsibility. God does not need me as a financial adviser.

I’m not even honestly sure what I was afraid of. Whenever I’m stressed about something, I try to find the worst case scenario so I can come to grips with it, a preemptive strike in case it happens. What was the worst case here?

Was it that we would end up living on the street? Not likely since we have many loving family members who would take us in if it got that far. Moving in with family would not be ideal, granted, but it would by no means be a death sentence.

So was my real fear one of death by starvation? Even more unlikely. However, even if that were the outcome, what happens then? I would go to heaven. So I’ll have to strike ‘death’ off the list of ‘worst case.’

No, my real fear was that if God didn’t give us the dollar sign I had in mind, then I would not be provided with my preferred creature comforts. That’s the bottom line of why I was stressing about money. I wanted to be able to buy what I wanted when I wanted it.

I love giving gifts to other people and it’s tough for me when I can’t do that. I like to relax in front of the tv and watch Netflix. I have an addiction to crafts and being without supplies is very uncomfortable for me. Not to mention the lovely new smart phones my siblings keep rubbing under my nose.

But all these are extravagancies and ridiculously unnecessary. And it’s true what they say: you can’t take it with you. And a lot of the things I value here on earth, I wouldn’t want to take to heaven with me anyway; I’d be too ashamed to.

In Mat.6, Jesus tells us to store treasures in heaven and leave our earthly cares to Him. He assures us that we will be clothed and fed. When I don’t take Him at His word, and continue to labor to fill my earthly storehouse, it jeopardizes my relationship with Him because I’m essentially saying that I want these other things more than I want Him.

The reason I don’t trust God to provide is because I know that He will not help me sustain an idolatrous lifestyle. And I like some of my idols. Especially if they keep me entertained, comfortable, and focused on myself.

I can serve money by worrying about it and stressing about attaining more, or I can serve God, by trusting Him to provide for my needs and building up treasures in heaven.

Will I continue to worry about money? You bet ‘cha. But with God’s help, I will be able to cast more of my cares upon Him and tear down the idols in my life until one day, ‘I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.’ (Phil4:12)

 


Living on Purpose

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We each have them. Most of us have a whole list: The things in our lives that we want to change. 

But most of them aren’t that big of a deal. They’re little things like biting our finger nails, spending too much time on facebook, or complaining too much about work.

These things are annoying and, sure, we’d like to change them, but we can live with them. They’re manageable so we go along on our merry way and try to focus on the big issues.

The only problem is, big issues are made up of little issues.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest.” 

Don’t believe him? Here’s some food for thought: If you fold a piece of tissue paper in half 25 times, it will be almost as tall as the Empire State Building. If you fold it in half 45 times, you can reach from the earth to the moon. 46 times and you’re back to the earth again. If you were to fold it just 103 times, it will be thicker than the observable universe, 93 billion light years.

That blew my mind. I used to think the little habits in my life, my ‘quirks’ and ‘isms,’ weren’t that big a deal. Sure, I have room to grow, but how much damage could the little things really do?

Then I listened to this sermon series.

The message is about habits; the good, the bad, and the ugly. The pastor emphasizes the importance of living purposefully, and realizing that it’s the little decisions we make every day, consciously or otherwise, that will direct the course of our lives.

Well, twenty minutes in, I was ready to put out the ‘Caution: Under Conviction’ sign.

But I’ve tried to change before and it’s never worked. Why would this time be any different? Why should I even bother? Isn’t it too late for me to change?

Well, the best time to plant a tree was 20yrs ago. The second best time is now.

Sure I wish I had conquered bad habits and developed good habits ten years ago. But do I really want to have that same regret ten years from now? If I’m going to be 37yrs old regardless, wouldn’t I rather be a 37yr old who’s fluent in ASL, even if it’s too late to be fluent at 27?

And if I don’t change, how bad will these little ‘Leah quirks’ be in ten years?

In the first sermon of the aforementioned series, the pastor recommends writing a list of your good habits, your bad ones, and the ones you want to cultivate. So I did. Let me tell you, the first column was a short one and the second was far too long. So I chose to focus on the third column, the list of habits I want to cultivate.

I chose four items on which to focus:

Spending time in the Bible before I check my computer (so I can better focus on the Lord before I get distracted with the goings-on of the world)

Kneeling to give thanks three times a day (to adopt a posture of purposeful prayer, like Daniel did, and cultivate an attitude of gratitude)

Learning ASL (don’t ask me why, I don’t know yet. I’ve just always wanted to)

Stopping my snacking every night by 7pm (because I keep hearing it’s healthy to do so and helps you lose weight)

With these desired habits before me, I did what any good ex-nanny would do and I made myself a chore chart. I have a points system in place to track my progress and rewards that will keep me motivated and focused. Here I am four weeks later and I love it!

The difference of living intentionally in these smaller areas has already bled over into other areas of my life. I’ve been praying more, I’ve been happier and felt more peace, I’ve been working out regularly, I’ve been more focused on my writing…etc. It’s brought a real sense of accomplishment and fulfillment.

Now I know the danger here is straying into work-based religion and turning time with the Lord into an item on the to-do list. But honestly, I firmly believe that the peace and satisfaction I’ve been experiencing is from the knowledge that I’m obeying God.

The enemy wants me to be lazy, to give up, to wallow in complacency… he doesn’t want me to cultivate Godly habits.

But the Lord has cautioned me to redeem the time for the days are evil. He has called me to live a Godly life and I want to make honoring Him habitual. I want to make a habit out of righteousness.

So, why don’t you join me? I highly recommend you watch the sermon series (I’m not being paid or even asked to endorse it; I was honestly blessed by it and want to pass that blessing along). Write out your own list of habits and, with the Lord’s help, start living on purpose.


Collecting Flood Water

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My parents recently had the opportunity to experience a Colorado Springs weather anomaly. For those of you familiar with Colorado Springs, you’ll know that it is the center for strange and bizarre weather (see our blizzard-y wedding pictures from the 1st of May). But this time, Colorado outdid itself.

Out there on the drought-weary plains, it rained so much that my parents’ basement flooded. They’ve never even heard of such a thing happening in the fourteen years they’ve lived there.

My response when I heard of their trial was typical to my personality and general world-outlook:

“*Sigh* It’s always something.”

Take my car, for instance, and its insistence on leaking coolant even after hundreds of dollars worth of repairs. Or my husband’s ever increasing work-load. Or the traumatic situation I underwent at the grocery store when I had to wait in a longer-than average line! The horror!

Yep, always something.

But my mom had a different perspective on things.

She pointed out that no matter what, life will be full of ‘always something’ moments. And she recommended collecting them.

She proposed the idea of holding onto those trying situations, holding them close so that you can display them, look back on them, and remember God’s goodness.

So this got me thinking: what if I were to trust God so much that, rather than getting fearful and upset at the first sign of flooding, I got excited?

What if instead of filling me with dread, trials filled me with anticipation, an eagerness to see how God’s goodness will be displayed through that situation?

Take my parents’ basement, for example. Aside from the massive job of cleaning everything, they had to throw out the carpet pad and rent then buy a pump. But, the drywall, insulation, carpet, furniture, important papers, etc… is all perfectly fine!

If you choose to see all the good that God did, rather than the bad He allowed, you can’t look at the situation without rejoicing!

Like with my car; I can choose to be anxious as it dies of old age, or I can rejoice because it’s serving its purpose at the moment and God has so richly blessed us that we can afford the repairs or even a replacement if need be.

Or my husband’s job? Well, I can fret for his sake that he’s so busy and has to work late on occasion, or I can rejoice because with this season of busyness comes job security.

As for waiting in long lines… well, that’s my own fault because I’m the one who keeps praying for patience 😉

I guess in the end, it all boils down to perspective and what or Whom you’re choosing to trust.

I’ll leave you with the closing thought of Is.59:19:

“When the enemy comes in like a flood,
The Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.”

I tread dangerous ground here, but I’ve been learning in Sunday school that all translation requires interpretation and this verse is a perfect example of that. You see, we put in the commas after the fact; they aren’t in the original Scriptures. So while there are certainly season where the enemy comes in like a flood, what if we were to move the comma?

                                                                                “When the enemy comes in,                                                                                     like a flood the Spirit of the Lord will life up a standard against him.”

Or, as the NASB puts it:

“For He will come like a rushing stream
Which the wind of the Lord drives.”

How do you choose to look at it?

Next time the flood waters start to rise, choose to rejoice in the goodness of an abundant God Who fills to overflowing.


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