Puzzling...


I love working puzzles. The satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment as each piece snaps in... Ahhhh! Admittedly though, there are times when I search and search for a particular piece, and can't seem to find it amidst the hundreds of others, that I become frustrated. But when I finally find that connecting piece that ties the picture together... I do a happy dance as the pieces fall into place faster for a while... Until I come to another area I get stuck on, and have to walk away. I can't tell you the amount of times I have to stare at the box to see the big picture of what I'm working towards...

Ever been there with your Bible? I know I have! How many times do you read and study and read some more, only to still be confused and unsure of how a particular story fits into the 'Big Picture'? What do Leviticus or Numbers have to do with Jesus (because He IS the 'Big Picture')? (Admit it, we all wonder what Numbers' purpose is...) (no?!?) {sigh} Or, why even bother with the Old Testament at all if the 'Big Picture' is in the New?

Firstly, how can you have a 'New' without an 'Old'? And how do you understand the significance of Jesus without understanding God's original plan for us? It all ties together. I admit, there are parts of the Old Testament that still leave me confused (they're the pieces that are missing in my puzzle). But, I also admit that had I not read the books leading up to Matthew, I'm not sure I would totally get Jesus. He almost sounds fictitious, and magical; like the Harry Potter of His time (come on, He defeats His Own dark lord...).  (Incidentally I'd like to mention that the Harry Potter book series is quite comparable in length to the Bible...in case you think the Bible's too long to read completely...) And it'd be easy to pass Jesus aside as a folklore or legend if we didn't have the prophecies and backstory of man's need for Mercy and Grace...

So is there a purpose to all of it to understand the 'Big Picture'? Absolutely. (John 13:19, John 14:29, John 16:3-4) There is a purpose to each book, chapter and verse of the Bible. (Yes, including Leviticus (understanding God's Holiness) and Numbers (showing Israel's lack of faith and God's patience)). You can't understand who Jesus was and why He came without understanding God's Holiness and patience and 'our' errors.

Without each section, we run the risk of misinterpreting, misunderstanding and misrepresenting His Word. We’ve all seen/heard when people use Scripture out of context; usually because they don’t bother to understand or even read the verses around one particular verse. (If we’re being honest, we’ve probably misused a verse or two ourselves…) So how can we even try to spread the Truth about Jesus without knowing the whole Truth? We’ve got to study and read it all. (Even Leviticus and Numbers {sigh}).

When I’m putting my puzzle together, and I can’t find a piece, I don’t just quit that section (or even the entire puzzle). I search (and search) for the missing piece. Or, I move on to another section. (It’s funny, when I give up finding that one piece I searched for, and begin working another part, I often come across the original piece…) The same thing can happen in the Bible. You may not understand the point of Leviticus and all of its’ ‘Instructions’ (for offerings, festivals, hygiene, etc.), but it’s there for a reason. For instance, a sin offering was to be a young ram (lamb) pure of defects: our ultimate sin offering was Jesus, Lamb of God, who was sinless (pure). (See, Leviticus really does have a purpose hidden below all those instructions!) And the entire Bible is like this! When all of the jagged, deformed, multi-colored, shaped and sized hodge-podge pieces come together…It is the ultimate puzzle; you see the ‘Big Picture’, and it truly is remarkable and beautiful!

To Do List



Have you ever had one of those Sunday sermons that seemed to just drag on, and with each introduced talking point your frustration grew? For me, these are few and far between. And they absolutely have nothing to do with my Pastor, they are all about me. But this past Sunday, I just couldn’t sit still, waiting for the message to end. I was aggravated at myself more than anything else because I knew in church was where I needed to be. My mind kept wandering to all of the things I had on my continuously growing ‘to do’ list (and it was just my weekend list- things I wanted to accomplish before I went back to work on Tuesday). (Notice that these are things that I wanted to accomplish- not necessarily things that actually needed to get done). The message was great. And when the sermon finally was over, I noticed we seemed to let out a little earlier than usual. So why my impatience?
Well, if you knew me, you’d know that patience has never been a strong trait for me. I can get easily frustrated at the tiniest thing. (You should see the aggravation when I carry laundry to the washer then have to go back and pick up items I dropped (stupid socks)). But when you dig down, you see my impatience, frustration, etc. all stem from [me]. For instance, with the laundry- if I didn’t let it pile so high that I can’t carry the load in one shot, I wouldn’t drop socks. Or my list…most of it related back to things I’d put off until last minute, or for so long that it was overwhelming me. (I will not attempt to detail my list, and let you into how crazy my mind really does work at times (mostly)).
And when you really dig down deeper, it stems to my selfishness. What I want, when I want it. (Now). I don’t want to be inconvenienced. And isn’t that how we, as supposed Christians, really are? We’re willing to talk about Jesus, share our testimony with other Christians. We don’t inconvenience ourselves enough to do these things with non-believers. (And here’s where it hits me: I am stingy with my time. So why I am wasting my time sharing stories of Jesus with people who already know Him?) (I am not saying not to talk with other Christians, and share Jesus with them- we all need encouragement and reminders… I am saying don’t just share with Christians—we need to get out there and proclaim the gospel for anyone to hear!) Remember Stephen in Acts 7? He was a simple man. (Like most of us) He spread the Gospel to anyone that would listen. And when he was arrested for preaching at the Synagogue, he continued to preach: to those that had less than two months prior crucified Christ. (Tell me he didn’t know he was essentially accepting a death sentence!) He preached about God’s relationship with Israel. He walked them through points from the Old Testament, accusing them of not obeying the laws they were trying to defend. They, once again, were ignoring Who Jesus Christ is. The Old Testament is filled with prophecy and stories that lead up where Stephen was at. (And they continue well past, to Jesus’ return…) Stephen didn’t defend himself for preaching. And because of his teachings, he was stoned to death. And who was one of the witnesses to his death? S(P)aul- a man who is arguably one of the greatest teachers of Christianity in the Bible! So, let’s be reminded that everything we say and do, and experience, is witnessed by someone who could be the pivotal turning point for God. The thing is, when we put ourselves on the back burner, and light our spark for Christ, we become fireproof. Nothing else matters; no one can hurt us; death cannot defeat us. (Amen?!?!) “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Chris. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live” (Paul: Philippians 1:321-24) Can anyone of us say this? Because the selfishness in me, wants to end that speech with the part where dying is best for me. Period. But, until God decides what day that will be, I am ‘stuck’ here, for your sakes. Meaning, while we are here on this earth God created, living this life He gave us… we need to be living for Him. (Not [me])
So coming full circle… am I (are you) more like Stephen accusing the high priest and his court of ‘talking’ too much (and not obeying what they enforce)? Or am I (are you) more like high priest trying to quiet the only person trying to tell Truth?
So instead of fidgeting in my seat at church thinking of all the stuff on my ‘to do’ list, I need to remember the only item that must get done: Live for Christ. And make sure I can check it off as complete.
In order to give your life for Christ, you must first live your life for Christ.

Resolutions

 It is only two weeks into January and I have already failed at some of my New Year's resolutions.  Every year I tell myself that I am not going to make any, since I know that more often than not the passion that I had when I decide that this is the year I am going to maintain an exercise routine, or this is the year I am going to read the entire Bible from cover to cover, or this is the year that I am going to tackle organizing my craft area....it tends to smolder out after a while.  And that grand plan I had....it just kind of fades into the background of every day life.

It's never a conscious decision to let the flames die out.  I just seem to get busy with taking care of the house, or my homeschool plan blows up with a 6 year old melt down because she "just can't do it" today, or any other interferences that pop up.  One thing leads to another and I suddenly realize that I haven't touched a piece of exercise equipment in days.  Or I haven't managed to read more than one or two consecutive Bible verses at a time without an interruption or distraction. Please tell me that I'm not the only one....

It's frustrating to lose your passion for your resolutions, but when is the last time you checked your passion level for God?  "Wait!" you say, "I do a LOT for Him!"  And you might be right.  From volunteering in the church, the community, giving money to a need, tending the needs of others etc.  You may very well be very busy being busy for God.  But I'm not talking about what you are doing for Him, I am asking you to examine WHY you are doing for Him.  
“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people... You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!    ~Revelation 2:2-4 NLT
It is so easy to get in the habit of being a Christian that we forget what it is to BE a Christian.  It's all about love, first for God (Matthew 22:37-38) and second for others (Matthew 22:39).  1 Corinthians 13:1-3 tells us that no matter what we do, if it isn't done in/for love then it  has no value.

Remember when you first accepted the gift Jesus offers?  I do.  I was ON FIRE!  I wanted to do everything to please Him.  I spent time in His word trying to figure out who He is, what makes Him happy, what makes Him sad.  I was telling everyone about Him, how He changed my life, how He could change theirs.  I am sure I drove family and friends crazy.  And I am sure I am not alone.

When one of daughters first started studying scripture she would look up and ask (with a glow on her face and a sparkle in her eyes), "Did you know that Paul got to go and see the future and he wrote about it in Revelation?  How cool is that!" When is the last time you read Scripture and had to stop and say, "how cool is that!"?  I know for me, it's been a while.  I have found myself skimming familiar passages because I already knew that story.  Here's the thing though, God's word is living and breathing.  (Hebrews 4:12)  I have experienced it.

I've read a passage, made notes in my journal about how it spoke to me, only to come across the passage months or years later and get an entirely new revelation from it.  I KNOW this, and yet in my hurry to just read scripture and check that off my good Christian list, I have not allowed God to speak to me.  And when we don't allow God to speak to us, we can't be fed by Him, and when we aren't fed by Him, our passion wanes.  That is a scary path to be on.  Allowed to smolder long enough and a fire eventually goes out.

There is good news though.  Revelation 2:5 tells us that we can turn back to Him, we can rekindle our passion.  First we have to recognize that it isn't what it once was, and ask Him to forgive us for that.  Then we have to open ourselves up to Him, look for Him expectantly, have faith in His power to stir up a fire in us.  And finally we have to make Him the priority.  Luke 12:29-31 reminds us that there is no need to do otherwise. When we put Him first, He will take care of the rest.

So whether you, like me, have already found yourself behind on your New Year's resolutions on not, I encourage you to focus on the one thing that really matters, your passion for God.  Is it time to fan the flames and rekindle it?

(Un)Settled


Have you ever wanted something so badly, but no matter how hard you've tried or sought, you just couldn't receive/achieve your goal? Many years ago, after we'd just purchased our house, I went on a shopping spree for decor and furnishings. I had a particular idea in mind for each room, and went on the hunt to find the items to make my house complete. After numerous stores and weeks of time passing, I grew aggravated and disappointed in the continued emptiness of my home while I searched for the perfect furnishings. I couldn't find what I wanted. I ended up settling for some wall hangings and color schemes that were close, but not quite what I desired. Later on (years), after I had given up the hunt, I found exactly what I'd been searching for, only I already finished my decorating. I was disappointed once again that I let go of my original plans for something else, just to finish the house and fill the emptiness. Ever been there? Maybe not with decorating, but with a plan of some sort (career, hobby, sport, relationship…)?

Now imagine the disappointment God feels when we settle for something other than Him? Or, when we 'settle' for Him, but never really accept Him? He desperately wants us to want Him. With the same passion and zeal He has for us. Feeling a little guilty yet? Let's turn it around... What if God only loved us as much as we love Him? (Well, that's uncomfortable...) If He gave us as much as we give Him (love, time, money...), where would you stand then? When I think in that perspective I am immediately loaded with a heavy heart. We will never be able to love God as much as He loves us, nor what He deserves... And we certainly don't deserve all that He's given us in return. But I don't want to be on the receiving end of the half-hearted, whenever there’s a ‘spare’ minute, whatever's leftover kind-of-love that I tend to give to Him either.

We ought to be heavy hearted that we will never be able to reach His level, and constantly striving to do more, be better... Not wandering around wondering if there's more or better out there without Him. (And let's face it, when we're not all in, we're all out.)

Scriptures tell us time and time again what God wants from us: us; nothing more, nothing less. (2 Chronicles 7:15, Mark 12:33) When we give Him the only thing we have to offer, ourselves, completely, He turns that around into a blessing for us. By relinquishing ourselves to Him, we're really gaining our true identity; because who we are in Christ is the only self that matters.

Are you ignoring God and His desires,determined for your own wants, not willing to concede? Or have you ‘settled’ for God, yet keep your eye out for something else that might come along to appease you more? If you’ve ‘settled’ for God, you’re missing out on so much Glory! When you finally accept that you need Jesus, you’re not admitting defeat, you’re claiming Victory.

Friend or Foe?


Isn’t it magnificent how, even when we don’t do much for God, He is still working wonders for you? Don’t you ever feel like you’re taking advantage of the relationship; taking more than you give?

Some days I feel like I do a lot for Him. Others, not so much. And then there are those days that I don’t want to do anything, for Him, His Kingdom, or anyone else. I just want to veg out on my couch in my pajamas all day, drink my coffee, watch my chick flicks and forget about the world around me. (Does anyone else have those days?) Granted, even the Bible talks about enjoying a day of rest, a Sabbath day; however, that day is meant to be set aside to rest our bodies, and keep it holy. (Genesis 2:2-3) I’m not sure how holy I’m keeping my resting day when I barely even acknowledge Him, other than a quick blessing over my meal during commercial break.

And if there were a checks and balances in Heaven, (thank goodness there’s not!) I’d think those ‘lazy’ days hurt me (and Him) more than the days I devote to Him can ever help. Truth: God doesn’t want you to exhaust yourself doing His work. However, His work, when done with love for Him and His people, will invigorate us, not exhaust us. (Luke 24:49, John 15:27, Acts 1:8, Hebrews 4:16) He stirs an excitement deep within us, pumping adrenaline and enthusiasm through us, revitalizing not only those we are serving, but us as well. (Isaiah 40:29) (Please tell me you’ve felt it…) (If you haven’t, then you might want to rethink the work you’re doing for ‘Him’ and check your heart overall for Him…because something’s missing…)

So, let me ask you: are you helping Him or hurting Him? Are you giving God the best or the worst of you? All you have or all you have left? My Pastor stated in his sermon on Sunday “Everything should be expendable next to Him.” My paraphrase: ‘Everything else is a waste.’ A waste of time, talent, effort…, if it’s not done to and for the Glory of God. (Malachi 1:6, 13-14, Hebrews 10:26, 2 Peter 2:21)

He will never give us less than His best…so, why do we think He deserves less than our best? “I Am Who I Am” (Exodus 3:14) He Is Who He Is: Are we who we claim to be? Are we His friend, or His foe? Because what it boils down to is, if we’re not completely for Him, we’re against Him.

As this New Year commences, take the challenge to not only make resolutions, define a solution to your apathy. (And we all have moments of apathy.) God graciously gave you another year of work to do. Don’t let Him down. The fact that He thinks so much of you to give you more time is truly something to celebrate this 2015. (Philippians 4:4, 2 Thessalonians 5:16)