Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: Over and Out!

A few more hours until the back cover closes this crazy novel.
What a terrain this year had! I feel like the first 6 months were an influx of the Holy Spirit over my life, and the last 6 months was the infestation of pests to distract me from everything originally spoken. Ultimately, it's a sift of what is temporal, what is eternal, and whether I have the discernment to keep or discard.

I can say this much: I've found greater facets of the heart of God.

And you can't love without getting hurt. God never disappoints us, but the sacrifices, the stripping of flesh, the death to self, the stepping out of His love - frankly, it hurts. So that's what this year was full of: loving God and feeling the pain of sacrifice and the repercussions of mistakes.

Here are my resolutions... for the rest of my life:
  • I will love, honor, and respect Him first.
  • I will not live in regret. I will look at my mistakes, look at the right thing to do, and praise God for giving me the ability to do the right thing next time. I will praise Him because He does not condemn me, and therefore:
  • I will not live in self-condemnation. OR self-pity. I will not apologize for the call of God over my life, or for the way that He has made me. What HE says counts! What others say, what others think, what I think others think, DOES NOT COUNT. And yet,
  • I will not place security in what I know. I will not live in pride or false pride. I will learn what true humility is, and I will not rely on knowledge.
  • I will keep my spirit open. I do not, and will not, know everything there is to know about God. I do not want to be offended when I realize Truth.
  • I will say what He speaks, do what He would do, go where He goes.
  • I will love, forgive, and extend grace. I have been a fool too, and will forever be in need of a Savior. It is never my place to cast the first, second, last, or any stone. God is the only Judge, but He still imparts the spirit of discernment, and I cannot deny Him the revelations He wants to give me.
  • I will be a woman of my word.
  • I will exercise self-control. I will seek the Spirit for boundary lines - what I need to partake, abstain, or take in moderation.
  • I will not settle for anything less than God's best. No more compromises. I cannot sacrifice my identity, my standards, or my God-given desires on behalf of someone or something that would only satisfy or fill me temporarily.
  • I will seek affirmation from Christ. I cannot rely on people to affirm my God-given identity, and yet, I will not diminish the words that God speaks through them. God has given me a life with the fullness of Him, and to 'weaken' or deny their words is an expression of ungratefulness.
  • I will live what I believe. Talk is cheap.
What did I really learn this year?
I learned that the love of God, and His words, will always supercede what everyone else says. And yet, I cannot let go of the fellowship I have with people. I need them, and I need to also recognize that I have a place in this body too. I cannot isolate myself, and I cannot idolize people.

I need balance.

I am looking forward to 2009. I want to close the wounds and start fresh. God has planted dreams and visions in my heart, and I am expecting a turnaround!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Who's Having a Baby!?

Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:
He appeared in a body,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.

I Timothy 3:16

Oh the beauty and the mystery of the Incarnation!
These days Christmas is either commercialized, patronized, or adored. And for those who adore, maybe we smile or acknowledge, or weep in advent and awe and love. But the fact still remains, this happened to humans. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus - all people.

Meaning, Mary, pondering all these things (Luke 2:19), could have easily said, "That's God kicking in my belly!" Max Lucado actually poses some 25 beautiful questions he'd like to ask Mary [plus some additional commentary by yours truly]:

  1. What was it like watching Him pray?
  2. How did he respond when he saw other kids giggling during the service at the synagogue?
  3. When he saw a rainbow, did he ever mention a flood?
  4. Did you ever feel awkward teaching him how he created the world? [Hey Jesus, on day 1, You made heaven and earth!]
  5. When he saw a lamb being led to the slaughter, did he act differently?
  6. Did you ever see him with a distant look on his face as if he were listening to someone you couldn't hear?
  7. How did he act at funerals?
  8. Did the thought ever occur to you that the God to whom you were praying was asleep under you own roof? [More like, "Father God - can Jesus hear me right now? I mean, beside the fact that He's in the other room..."]
  9. Did you ever try to count the stars with him...and succeed?
  10. Did he ever come home with a black eye? [If Jesus said to turn your cheek, did He let other kids beat up on Him? Would He heal Himself? Or did He have the power to restrain them?]
  11. How did he act when he got his first haircut?
  12. Did he have any friends by the name of Judas? [I think of Mr. B's thought of painting kid-Jesus and kid-Judas playing tug of war...]
  13. Did he do well in school?
  14. Did you ever scold him? [Well... wasn't He perfect?]
  15. Did he ever have to ask a question about Scripture?
  16. What do you think he thought when he saw a prostitute offering to the highest bidder the body he made?
  17. Did he ever get angry when someone was dishonest with him?
  18. Did you ever catch him pensively looking at the flesh on his own arm while holding a clod of dirt?
  19. Did he ever wake up afraid? [But there is no fear in LOVE! HE is love!]
  20. Who was his best friend? [...God?]
  21. When someone referred to Satan, how did he act?
  22. Did you ever accidentally call him Father? [or LORD?]
  23. What did he and his cousin John talk about as kids?
  24. Did his other brothers and sisters understand what was happening? [Talk about living under the shadow of perfection! He always made His bed, put things where they belong...]
  25. Did you ever think, That's God eating my soup?

Sacrilegious? I think not. In fact, I'm absolutely humored - perhaps even more in love with Jesus trying to grasp the fact that He was human. And He had human limitations. He probably had an awkward stage ["awkward" by societal interpretation, as it always is]. And Mary, seeing these things with her very eyes, treasured these things in her heart.

And yet, she could have also pondered the following: "If He is God, why does it hurt?" If this is a divine birth, why must I experience pain? Why must I bear weight and be so stretched? If this is God, why do I have to let Him go? If this is God, why must I watch the One I love so torchered and beaten and killed?

Don't we find ourselves in that place? Aren't there moments where God longs to place His desires in our hears, and so we say "Let it be unto me according to Your Word?" And then, only to find that this Word, this promise, this command, this calling - sometimes, it hurts. It's like a weight we carry, a heaviness, a burden. Stretching our limits. Testing our patience. Keeping us awake at night. And sometimes, we eventually question, "God, is this really You?" Maybe our Joseph - the ones closest to us - will question too, "God, are You sure this is Your Spirit and not her way of sneaking out of a sin?" Yes, we face the public, who might disbelieve us or mock us. Yes, temptation will come to doubt or fear. But above all else, we recall the beautiful declaration of promise:

Blessed is she who has believed that what the LORD has said to her will be accomplished.
-Luke 1:45

Post-pregnancy is the joy of a Child. Post-death is the joy of the resurrection. Post-struggle is the earned reward. Post-endurance is the fulfillment of a promise. We are not to keep this pain like a trophy, like a reward for playing the victim - even if we're still in the struggle. We need to recognize that we are part of something greater - we aren't commissioned to build walls, we are commissioned to build cathedrals. Vision gives purpose to pain.

2009 was prophesied as being the year of the womb (among other things), and I am holding out for that. I do believe that the promises God has given me will bear fruit. I believe that the pain I had to endure this past year will be forgotten. For me, '08 had to have been the most stretching and the most ridiculous, and also, the most I've ever fought for Love. And when you fight for Love, you have Love.

One facet of the Incarnation was that it was an act of relentless pursuit - that God so desired to be among us, and wanted us to know that He wants to be closer. It definitely leaves me awestruck to compare the joy and peace found therein, to the human fight for life. I hope with all hopes, that I won't abort this Promise, because even if I experience pain, God is still here, and eventually I can say,

My eyes have seen Your salvation
-Luke 2:30


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Planning by Faith

The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the LORD weighs the motives. Commit your works to the LORD and your plans will be established. The LORD has made everything for its own purpose...
Proverbs 16.1-4

I am futuristic. And like "overthinking," it can be either a booster or a dragger. I would question myself: am I losing "faith" by planning so much? Isn't God Himself a planner (Jer 29.11)? Is there a line between planning and faith?

No.. in fact, I think the answer lies in Planning BY Faith. If you are not an overt planner like myself, that sounds like common sense. If you are like me, planning by faith sounds like an oxymoron.

Faith will forever be an issue, as long as we are non-omniscient, as long as we are human. It takes a lot of endurance just to hope for what we can't even see, to anticipate the unknown, to wait patiently for Someone we've only caught so little of.

So, how do we "planners" learn to exercise this God-given gift, and plan by faith?

First, seek His heart. This is an opportunity for intimacy - to know His heart and His intentions. It's different to say "Do whatever You want," and ask, "God, what do You want me to do?" While both statements are valid, the first statement infers that you are a guest uninvolved in the Master's affairs; the second one says I belong in this House You have made for me, and I want to know what You have built. The Psalmist says, "The LORD confides in those who fear Him" (Psalm 25.14). This is your opportunity to seek out what His plan, and then make it Yours.

Secondly, seek wisdom. A wise man not only knows and understands a situation, but possesses the proper pro-active, reactive, or inactive response. We walk by faith and not by sight. But if our means of "closing our eyes" equals an arrogance that has stuck our noses so high in the sky, we'll fall into pits. Seeking wisdom recognizes that as a planner, you depend on the ultimate Counselor to teach you all things (John 14.26).

Thirdly, seek peace and pursue it (Psalm 34.14). To plan by faith means to plan in Sabbath mode, knowing that His peace is a manifestation of His glory. Faith means that we do not doubt His voice, and trust that "in Him we live, move, and have our being." Although we cannot see all the pieces fitting perfectly, we can still walk forward in faith - knowing (not doubting) that He guides our steps, and makes them firm. Worrying is an indication that you've stepped off of faith (Faith and worry cannot co-exist).

In essence, planning by faith means that every step of the planning process, you are trusting God to reveal His heart, guide your steps, and protect you with peace. Planning by faith shows God that you are a good steward of the time and resources He has given you, and yet, it is the recognition that all things are subject to change - and it's okay.

God ultimately has His way, but He never messes with our will, and it all comes back to who we trust more - Him, or ourselves. And to trust Him means to plan by faith.

You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.
Psalm 16.11



The unimportant Backstory.
I'm planning again, and it's a fight against my mind not to step into the realm of worry or doubt. I ask myself: should I have been in the educational or medical field? Some have told me that art is so self-indulging, and the only way to make it 'useful' is through education or therapy. I can't help but wonder, have I been wrong about my career choices? Maybe these choices are stepping stones, to teach me character traits, and perhaps, will lead me to my "true calling."

So now I'm back at the place asking God what really matters to Him, and finding the passions that He designed me with. Because if it means I must step my feet back into school for it, at least I can say I am doing it for His purposes.

And if God so purposed that I return to university, but I stopped myself because of money, well, then I've made money an idol. I'd rather step into His will, empowered by grace and faith (and knowing that He is fighting for me). But when 'planning' gets the best of me, I stay 'safe' - I compute the loan-repayment output with numbers I can see, and take the controls away from God. We know that equals disaster.

Dear God- teach me how to plan by faith.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I was thinking...

I overthink things. That has caused both the prevention and the allowance of a pitfall. In my opinion, overthinking is one of those treasures that, if abusers of the tool (like myself) knew how to harness it, it could be the strongest weapon in our battle for Truth. However, because of its supernatural potential, the enemy likes to distort the way we approach it, and instead of understanding our minds as weapons that pierce, like 'light pierces the darkness,' it becomes a pierce like 'pierced to death.'

What am I getting at: it is part of the Great Command to 'Love God with all your mind.' There is such a power when the Holy Spirit imparts a word of knowledge, a word of wisdom, or the spirit of discernment. Even the spirit of understanding may come upon us, and all the above are processed in the mind, perhaps deeply processed, and the fruit of the harvest is a clearer perception of the Most High God.

But there are also gray lines - those thoughts that start out innocently, and what I mean by that is, our thoughts initially are safely termed: visionary. Futuristic. Reflection. Fantasy. Introspection. Analytic. But even those words, based on the dictionaries of our heads, could be good or bad things.

There are times we imagine potential outcomes of an interaction between you and another person (we like to say that we're preparing responses). But we eventually cultivate emotions out of conversations and interactions that never happened. Or perhaps our thought starts off as 'what if this happened in my life,' and in planning for the future, we start moving away from faith. Sometimes, we use the term 'learning from past mistakes,' but instead of our reflection being opportunities to resolve ways to move forward, we end up re-living those moments, and they often turn into regret. Maybe self-inflicted condemnation.

And if you are definitely an over-thinker, you've come to a point where you're drilling yourself, asking, 'where did I go wrong?'

Well, we let garbage clog up the proper drainage pipes, and when it rains, it overflows into sewage lines. Yes. We don't put thoughts in their proper place, and henceforth, all that comes out is crap. I'm not making a cheap illustration, I'm really driven by the recent floods, and the subsequent health advisories.

In practical terms, we need both filters and clear channels. Not that we'll never have another bad thought or temptation again, but the strength of the Spirit to dictate to you which thoughts are His, how does He want you to approach it, is there something He intends for you to do about it (thoughts produce no fruit if there is no action involved - you can think of a million comebacks in a fake conversation, but if you never say it, it remains a piece of fleeting imagination).

After all, as it says in I Corinthians, We have the mind of Christ.

And the mind of Christ allows us to discern the seasons, and know what is to be done in the proper seasons. It gains understanding of every angle of a situation, and pierce like Truth and Light. It is creative, innovative, and insightful. It receives unprecedented revelations. The mind of Christ that overthinks is able to prove the will of God.

What a powerful weapon! If only we could truly grasp this and give our minds in full surrender to God. Today, right now - yes, this exact moment - He has something He wants me to know, something He wants you to be aware of. But are we listening? And even if we heard it, would we think of it the way He does?


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

public image

Matthew 1:19. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
I am no Biblical scholar. We already know this.
But I cannot help but wonder what was running through the mind of Joseph, fully human, fully susceptible to temptation, fully capable to give into it. I could not help but wonder if Joseph really intended to 'escape' this situation through divorce. After all, people know him to be a righteous man! Would it not appear that Mary, severed from a commitment to Joseph, perhaps slept with another man? Could it be possible that Joseph would have rather the public condemn Mary alone, and not Mary and him? Look at it - they're not married and she's pregnant. So, to the public eye, either he and Mary screwed up, or just Mary screwed up.

Matthew 24:27-28. Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean! In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Too often we fall for the cop-out. To take the route of washing our tombs to hold to an image of righteousness but not knowing or experiencing it because of the dead bones within us. And yet we cannot link this directly to Joseph because:

Although Joseph's reasoning, 'he didn't want to expose her,' sounds like, 'Yes, I care for you, but I care for me even more,' we have to give him credit for caring for her in the first place. And even more credit because we know that he does not divorce her, that he remains by her side. Joseph stepped into the realm of faith - where he had to obey the command of the LORD, regardless of what he felt in the natural, regardless of his internal desires. They were surrendered for a holy cause. He chose righteousness before God versus righteousness before man - despite the repercussions of communal disgrace.

He proved a faithfulness, not just to God, but to his beloved.

Ephesians 5:25-29. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy... Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church.

And this very well saved the emotional weight the young Mary could have experienced having to bear and rear a child on her own. It's an honest righteousness that Joseph has, that even though the opportunity to exit was before him, he chose obedience. It's proof of character, of life.

Could we say the same of our own lives? That despite our reputations, we can dismiss it in order to help bring a Savior to the world?