Under Construction

Let each one take care how he builds upon (the foundation) 
1 Corinthians 3:10

It is interesting to me that Paul compares our lives as Christians to the building of a house.  I had not realized all of the thought and detail that is involved.  It is a pretty involved process, and when done well the end result will last for many generations.  When done poorly, problems soon arise that must be addressed and corrected for the house to continue to stand.

Paul reminds us in his first letter to the Corinthians that our foundation must always be Jesus, any other will surely cause problems.  A house built on a faulty foundation, no matter how well built the house is, will not stand.  But even given that every follower of Jesus has built their life upon His foundation, there is still lots of room for individuality, for a "house" that is uniquely ours.

How we live our life is how we "build" our house.  Our daily choices, our decision to show love to someone who doesn't deserve it.  The choice to give money to the person standing on the side of the road at the stop light.  The choice to think nasty thoughts about the frazzled mom who stands in the shopping line in front of you with her hot pink hair, a toddler on her hip and a baby in the buggy as she pays for her food with food stamps.  All of these things are how we build our house.

It is a good idea to occasionally stop and take inventory of your house.  When you live somewhere for some time it becomes familiar to you.  You become accustomed to the cracks in the walls and don't notice them anymore.  The weak spot in the floor gets pushed to the back of your mind once you recognize it and step over or around it instead of on it.  Over time the house falls into squalor and you don't even notice, until someone points it out to you.  Then you become defensive.  So what if it isn't the best house - it is your house.  And that is where we get it all wrong.  It isn't our house, it's God's house.

1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19 tells us that our body is a temple for the Holy Spirit, it is where the Spirit lives if we have invited Him in.  When we forget that and start building a house that we think is best, we run the risk of  discovering that when it really matters, our house is nothing other than a tinderbox that will one day be burned up.  (1 Corinthians 3:15)

What we need to focus on is building our house with "gold, silver, precious stones".  What are these things?  These are the attitudes, the thoughts that our Lord finds pleasing.  These are actions born of loving God and loving others.  These are the times we choose to love even when the recipient doesn't deserve it, doesn't love us back, and doesn't live the life we think he or she should.  These are born of our choice to think the best and have faith that God sees the truth and only He can judge another because of that.  When we focus on building our house on the foundation of God's love for us by loving Him back and sharing that love unconditionally with others we build a house that will withstand the fire and will be pleasing to Him.

What kind of house are YOU building?  I know I have some demolition to do.  Fortunately we serve a forgiving God who gives second chances.

Christ's Love



Do you ever have moments that you can hear yourself speaking, but can’t believe what you’re saying? I sure do. It’s the whole ‘do as I say, not as I do’ type thing. (And if I don’t like what I’m saying- what in the world makes me think those that hear it do?)

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.” (Mahatma Gandhi)

It’s kind of like that. I’ve caught myself, while trying to be the ‘good’ Christian, chastising others for something that I do. Hypocrisy at its best. I don’t know if I can point out others ‘mistakes’ easier because it’s like looking in a mirror, or I am completely oblivious to my own ‘mistakes’ because I can only see theirs… (I’m sure you’re well aware of Matthew 7:3-5).

Another issue for me is while I think I’m showing them their ‘mistakes’ to help them fix their ‘issues’- you know, so they’re getting ‘right’ with God- I forget to show them His love (incidentally the love He already has for them, whether they’re ‘right’ with Him or not). Why is it so easy for me to want to teach all of the commandments- while ignoring Jesus’ self-proclaimed greatest commandment: Matthew 12:30-31. Love God first (which I am trying to do), love others (which I tend to forget how). How loving am I being when I am only pointing out other’s faults? That is not very Christ-like. Jesus always showed love- to everyone He met. I choose who I love. If I think you’re too much of a challenge… I don’t have time for you (apparently I don’t want to put in the extra time and work- which could be its own message in itself). However, if you’re ‘almost there’, then I’m willing to lend a hand (and possibly take the credit of ‘converting another one’- filling myself with pride of the ‘job well done’- probably another message on its own as well).

The thing is- we forget- in our own judgmental minds- that we’re not the ones to judge. (Matthew 7:1-5, Luke 6:37, James 4:12, Romans 2:1-3, Romans 14:10-12, etc.) Only One can judge (James 4:12, 2 Corinthians 5:10, John 3:18, Hebrews 9:27, Romans 14:12, etc.). The other thing is- Jesus didn’t come to judge the world- He came to save the world (John 3:17, John 12:47) So, if Jesus came to save the world, why are we quick to judge it?

Why should anyone want to follow a god that only condemns? That’s really the biggest issue with Christianity- it sparks so many questions and so much hatred that He lets bad things happen, that He punishes us, etc.- but the truth is- if we all understood that He is a God of love, then the rest is understandable. His love goes beyond the greatest depths of the oceans, and higher than the heavens. (Ephesians 3:17-19) He died for us (John 3:16, Romans 5:8) - Love doesn’t get any greater than that. So why don’t we want to share that with everyone? Why are we quick to point out others transgressions, but not His Adorations? Maybe we don’t really want to share Him with others. Maybe we want to keep Him to ourselves. Maybe we want to feel better about our own iniquities when we’re pointing out others’… (maybe there’s a LOT of separate messages in there)

God’s Love, because of its immeasurable depths and heights, is enough for all of us. And it’s enough for us to share. Maybe we should practice being the Christians that Gandhi thought we should be. “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Hmmm… I’m pretty sure our Christ would like us to be that change in the world.

Standing on the Promises of God


Have you ever browsed through the discount rack at your local Christian bookstore?  Inevitably you will discover at least one volume entitled something like "The Promises of God".  The book is usually smaller than a paperback and usually rather plain.  Every time I see one it convicts me.

We so often overlook the promises of God in our life.  The Bible is full of promises, over 3,000 of them, and many of them are for you and me.  Yet when difficulties come do we turn to them for comfort?  Or do we sit and sulk?  Or seek advice from a friend?  Or complain?  I am ashamed to admit that God's promises are not always the first place I turn.

Russel Carter was a man who could probably relate to that, at least before he turned 30.  He was a young man that was a star athlete, successful student and eventually became an excellent teacher and coach.  He spent time as an ordained minister, completed med school, and then went on to practice medicine.  In his spare time he wrote and composed music.  All in all he was pretty successful, he believed and God and led a good life.

However, when he turned 30 he discovered that he had an untreatable heart and that his life would probably soon be over.  It was at this time that he realized that while he believed in God, he wasn't truly trusting God, he hadn't truly surrendered everything to God.  He reevaluated his relationship and finally gave God complete control.  At that time he began to trust God's word, His promises and he wrote the now popular hymn, Standing on the Promises of God.  Mr. Carter trusted God to heal his heart, and he went on to regain his strength and live an additional 49 years with a completely healed heart.

It takes faith to stand on the promises of God, especially when the world tells you that there is no hope.  Do you feel hopeless today?  Turn to one of God's 3,000+ promises and have faith that what God promised then, He stands behind now. (2 Corinthians 1:20, Hebrews 13:8)


{if you can't see the video please click here to view}

Surrender All



 
What is separating you from God? What (sin) are you holding onto that is driving a wedge between you and Jesus?

There are thousands of promises that God makes to us, if we choose to seek them out. (Jeremiah 29:13) Promises of the past (1 Kings 8:56), the present (Matthew 7:7) and the future (Romans 4:21) (2 Corinthians 1:20). He doesn’t distinguish between race, gender, status, knowledge… His promises are for everyone who believes and trusts in Him. From protection (Luke 10:19), to healing (Exodus 15:26), to provision (Matthew 6:33) to eternal life (1 John 2:25). Glory be to God!

It’s these promises that give us a hope. A hope that only Christ can fulfill; and already has (1 Peter 1:3). And it’s this hope that drives our faith (Galatians 5:5).

When will we realize it is thy will, not my will? (Luke 22:42) This world, our lives, are not our own. The sooner we understand that, the closer we will draw to our Father and His Son. And the sooner we will find the happiness, peace and love we’re searching for. It’s amazing how, when we quit fighting Him, and finally lay it down at His feet, He will deliver us from our sin; our temptations. We don’t have to get right for God, we will get right because of God. We just have to trust Him enough. Trust doesn’t come easy.  It wasn’t easy for Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32 6-17) to publicly buy land already captured by the enemy.  But he trusted God.  It wasn’t easy for David to believe that he would become King, even after he was anointed.  But he trusted God (1 Samuel 16-31).  It wasn’t easy for Moses to believe that he and his people would escape Egypt, even after God spoke to him from a burning bush.  But he trusted God (Exodus 3:1-4:20).  It isn’t easy for us to believe that God can fulfill his “impossible” promises either, but we must trust Him. 

Do you trust Him? Will you finally give it all to Him? Will you finally surrender?

Press On


"I just can't do it!" my daughter cried with a tear in her eye.  She is learning to read, and I know that she can read the word she is looking at - she just read it on the previous page with no problem.  But right now, in her frustration, she is convinced that reading this word is beyond her.  My heart breaks for her as she struggles with her doubts and insecurities about her ability.  A part of me just wants to tell her that it will be okay, she has done enough for the day.  Instead I encourage her to push on, to keep trying, to read the word.

Once our reading session is over, I am reminded of the story of Joseph-the guy with the colorful coat not the one who raised Jesus.  This was a guy who encountered some serious difficulties in life and yet he didn't give up.  (You can read his story in Genesis 37, 39-48)  Joseph chose to not only persevere through his hardships, he chose to do it with a smile on his face and an eye to helping those around him.  Joseph's life, in my mind, is a wonderful illustration of 2 Peter 1:5-7.

Joseph obviously had faith, he was quick to brag to his family about his dreams that God was going to put him above his family.  What he lacked was virtue, knowledge and self-control.  Sometimes we have to learn things the hard way, and in my experience life lessons learned the hard way tend to stick the best.  God needed to shape and mold Joseph into the man that He could use to save a nation.  That wasn't going to happen if Joseph continued to live the life of a favored son.  If he never had to depend upon God for anything, would he ever truly trust God enough to follow Him completely?  Probably not.

Joseph had to learn how to deal with difficulty.  First with being betrayed by family, which helped him to understand that even when people abandon you, God never does.  Then with being a slave, which helped him to understand what is was to serve others.  Then he went to work for Potiphar where he learned to put the interests of others first while managing his household.  Once imprisoned for being virtuous and refusing Potiphar's wife he continued to put the interests of others above his own while managing prison affairs.  While in prison he learned patience after chief butler forgot about Joseph after being freed until Pharaoh also needed a dream interpreted.  And through all of this Joseph learned to persevere.

Joseph's ability to persevere, to be patient and bravely endure troubles, is what helped him to be able to show brotherly love when his family unknowingly came before him seeking food.  God was able to orchestrate Joseph's life in such a way that not only was he able to become the man he needed to be, but used his situations to place him exactly where he needed to be too.  As a result what began as 66 chosen people of God was tucked away in Goshen and kept safe until Moses eventually led over 600,000 of God's chosen people out of Egypt.

I wonder how many times we have given up and walked away from a difficult situation that God was actually attempting to use to shape and mold us for something great?  How many times I chose to have a pity party and cry "I can't do it!" rather than look to what I can do or who I can assist in my situation?  God knows we have it in us to overcome any situation we are in, we have only to call on Christ's power and listen for God's voice of guidance to do so.  We have to move past our own feelings of doubt and insecurity.

As for my daughter, she read the word, and continued on with no problems to finish reading the book.  She had only to push past that one hurdle.  Are you struggling with a hurdle in your own life today?  Don't give up!  God has a plan for your life. (Jeremiah 29:11)  Never forget that you are never alone, He is always with you! (Matthew 28:20)

All or Nothing


All or nothing. That’s it. That’s what God wants from you.

Remember the story of Joseph and his brothers throwing him in the well? (Genesis 37) They hated him (mostly because he was proud and they were jealous), and there are many lessons to be learned from this story (God uses all circumstances for His good, God can use someone without any talents or skills, no matter the difficulties you face—if you keep your faith, God will pull you through, etc.), but the one that I want to pull out is actually more about Reuben than Joseph.

Reuben was Joseph’s oldest brother. When all of Joseph’s other brothers wanted to kill him, Reuben talked them out of it by convincing them that they didn’t need his blood on their hands or the guilt. He talked them into throwing Joseph into the well, with the intention of coming back later to retrieve Joseph on his own. (Genesis 37:21-22) At first glance, it seems like great brotherly love- saving your brother’s life immediately, and then wanting to come back and rescue him later. Great. Except it wasn’t. Reuben had good intentions, so to speak. But, really, he was a coward. Being the firstborn son of Jacob, Reuben could have commanded his brothers to listen to him. He could have (and should have) stood up to them outright, refusing to allow the conspiracy against Joseph. But, instead, he went around about way to save Joseph. He agreed with his brothers to get rid of Joseph, secretly plotting to come back and rescue him. But what was the point? His actions were useless. They were neither for nor against Joseph.

And that’s where we’re at most of the time with God. Most of what we do may seem to be for Him, but typically it’s a moot point. We’re only giving it half a shot. We don’t want to make ourselves unpopular with anyone, make any sacrifices (whether it be financially, physically or mentally) or lose ourselves (or our status) in the process. So we go along with the crowd, keeping our mouths closed, to keep the peace. Possibly thinking we’ll maybe speak one-on-one to each person to state our (forgetting it’s His) case. Maybe thinking like Reuben, and intending to come back later to rectify the damage we caused. We’re so concerned with ourselves and our precious time and money and reputation that, had we just done the right thing in the first place, we wouldn’t have to go back and attempt a do-over. Think about the time and money we’d save that way! And our reputations would be accounted for with the only person that matters in the first place: God.

We have to be able to stand up for what we believe. (2 Thessalonians 2:15) We must be consistent in our convictions, regardless of the possible outcome. There is no room for compromise when it comes to faith. If we don’t have our faith, then we’re in essence saying we don’t have God. And if we don’t have God, then we don’t have anything.

God doesn’t want our partiality, He wants our totality. All or nothing. (Proverbs 3:6)

(And remember, it’ll never compare to all that He gave for you.)


Fuller's Soap


But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap.
~Malachi 3:2

When I hear this verse I start humming the chorus of "Refiner's Fire" (the Christy Nockels version at the end of My Delight is in You), can't help it.  But when I was reading it during a recent lesson I was drawn to the "fuller's soap" portion.  I am sure I have read this verse multiple times before, and I know it has been taught on multiple times in my church, but I had never picked up this reference before.  Just was is a "fuller" and how is his soap important?  So I went searching...

A fuller is a person whose profession was to clean, thicken and whiten freshly woven cloth.  Cloth at this time was typically woolen.  To create it, the fur was harvested from the animal and then spun into yarn.  Once spun it was then used to weave the cloth.  Often this yielded a material that was full of the animal's natural oils, which attracted dirt and impurities.  The wool fabric was then passed on to a fuller who began the labor intensive process of cleaning, bleaching and felting the fabric. 

This was accomplished by first wetting the fabric and then using fuller's soap, believed to be an alkali derived from the ashes of burnt plants.  The fuller then begins to either beat or walk on the fabric for quite some time over stones with frequent rinsing to remove the undesired parts.  Fuller's soap is used during this process.  It is believed that fuller's soap was derived from the ashes of certain plants once burned, creating an alkaline substance.  Alkalies are caustic if concentrated.  After walking on and/or beating the material to an even, felted consistency it is then stretched and shaped on frames and allowed to dry.  

So, what is the point here?  Actually it isn't all that different than the one often made about the refiner's fire- the process in which we become pure, what we were created to be, is not an easy one.  In this instance, we can expect to endure caustic situations, to feel beaten down, to be worked over, stretched out, and hung out to dry.  Not a pleasant process at all.  However, the end result, a beautiful, strong, clean, consistent and desirable product, is well worth the hardship to accomplish it.  

An interesting side note - a fuller's job was not done inside the city.  This was for two reasons.  First being that the process itself was not pleasant smelling, especially during Roman times when urine was often used as a part of the cleaning/bleaching process.  Second being that it required copious amounts of water.  Our preparation isn't much different.  It occurs outside of our home city (heaven) because it is indeed a very dirty and distasteful process.  And our purification also requires copious amounts of living water -  Jesus.  We can't do it on our own.  It is only through Him that we can become pure.

I don't know about you, but I'll never be able to look at a load of laundry the same way again!

Prayer


I’ve been doing a lot of praying lately. I’ve needed some respite and reflection, and a little restoration.

It’s amazing to me the encouragement, humility and security that washes over me in an honest prayer. The kind of prayer where I’m not trying to say anything eloquently; the kind of prayer that at times, I don’t even have words to be said; the kind of prayer that means nothing to anyone but me, and God. It’s these moments that break me down so that He can build me back up; stronger, more confident and more secure in myself and in Him. There are times I don’t even know what or how to ask Him. But take comfort that He knows exactly what you need even before you (Matthew 6:8). But for those times when you, like me, don’t have the words or even the thoughts for a prayer, we’ve been given a perfect prayer to Him (Matthew 6:9).

Dissecting the Lord’s Prayer: (Matthew 6:9-13). You’ve all heard it; you don’t have to be a Christian to even know it. But have you really considered what it means when you recite it? (IF you recite it…)

9…Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
13 And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
9…this is indicative of how majestic and holy our God is- we should honor His name
10Christ reigns in our hearts, and in Heaven.  Asking for God’s will to trump ours, and that we may be used for to accomplish this for Him here
11acknowledge that God is our provider, everyday
12ask Him to forgive us, and that we may forgive those that hurt us
13Ask Him to help us with temptations and sin, and to rescue us from the devil and his evil.  Once again acknowledge His holiness and power.

 It’s not the actual words that you need to take to heart; it’s the meaning behind those words. Jesus wasn’t telling us that we have to recite this prayer, these words for God to listen. He was giving us a model for how to pray, a pattern to follow when we approach God: praise Him, pray for His work in the world, and for our daily needs and help in our daily struggles. How often do you follow this pattern when you go to Him? I didn’t get it for a long time. I always prayed (well, not always; sometimes it never occurred to me to pray- but that’s for another day); but I didn’t always understand that power that prayer truly holds; nor to Whom holds that power.

My women’s bible study recently read Francis Chan’s ‘Crazy Love’, and it begins with Chapter One: ‘Stop Praying’. At first glance, that seems ridiculous and even sacrilegious. But his thought is to stop praying the way we always do, as it becomes insincere and hasty. He teaches that we should revere God, acknowledge His magnificence, appreciate that He is all-knowing (Hebrews 4:13). How insightful, and refreshing is that!

We’re taught to ‘take it to God’ whenever we have a problem, that it’s become so routine we don’t even think about it. Do we even trust that He’s going to heal us, make the situation better? Do we trust that His way is the ultimate way? Or do we expect that our way is the only way, and when we don’t get it, we don’t get Him…?

I’m still learning to trust. I know in my mind that it is His Will to be done, not my own; it’s just, my heart wants to argue and try to understand why my will and His can’t co-exist… I don’t have that answer, and possibly never really will. I do have comfort in knowing that He knows better than I do; He sees everything, as in the whole picture; I only see a brief snapshot of a piece of the picture. Obviously He knows best. And trusting Him is my only respite. There are so many variables in this world, but one constant remains: God. There is nothing in this world, during this life that God can’t beat (read Revelations- He ultimately wins) - the Creator of everything is Everything- all that we need, anything we could possibly ever want. And that certainly is worth the praise of ‘hallowed be Thy name.’