Monday, February 20, 2017

Who's in Control?

When we consider that God created everything – the entire universe: planets, stars, mountains, oceans – it really is amazing and maybe a little intimidating. With all of that in mind, what do you think is God’s greatest creation? Don’t be shy; it is us! The Bible tells us that we were created in His image, which is a pretty high compliment. Human beings are incredible creatures. There are so many things that happen in our bodies that keep us alive without us having to think about any of it. Some of our involuntary functions include breathing, blinking, and swallowing. These things we do have some control over (when we want to or try). Other things, like our circulatory system, we don’t have direct control over. Did you know that if you were able to line up, end to end, the arteries, capillaries, and veins of one adult, it would stretch 60,000 miles! I found that online, so it must be true J. As a reference the circumference of the earth is 25,000 miles. So, each of our veins and stuff would go around the earth 2.5 times.

Other things, like our muscular system and nervous system, also are very complex and perform without much active thought from us. Many of us have, at one point or another, worn pedometers. Most of the time, our goal is to reach 10,000 steps per day. But, we don’t have to consciously think about every step that we take. Do you know how many muscles it takes to take one step? 200.

I posted a quote on Facebook a few nights ago that said, “How cool is it that the same God who created mountains, oceans, and galaxies thought the world needed one of you too.” The Bible tells us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. The Bible also tells us that God knew us before we were even formed in our mother’s womb. So, God didn’t just think, “I need another human on Earth.” No, he thought specifically of you; he knew you, and decided that the world needed you for this specific time. You have a purpose. If you think too much about it, it can seem daunting to try to figure everything out. It can make us feel inferior.

But, is important that we always understand that this life that we live is not our own; we belong to God. When he is in complete control, there is nothing for us to fear. Remember with the different systems in our bodies (the nervous system, circulatory system, muscular system, etc.), we can control portions of what happens. But, if we don’t try to take control of the involuntary actions, our bodies know exactly what to do and when to do it. We can mess up the rhythm when we try to take the control. The same is applicable in our lives. We need to remember that when we give our lives to God, we should also give him control. He doesn’t need us to intervene and mess up the rhythm. When we allow God to order our steps, we are still able to work in faith but know that we are walking in his will.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Don't Follow Your Heart

We often hear people say “follow your heart.” But, what does that mean? Most of the time, I think what people are saying is “do what makes you happy” or “don’t do something that makes you unhappy.” It could also mean “don’t do anything that you don’t want to do” or “only do what you want to do.” Or, maybe it is even tempting us to stay in our comfort zones. After all, that is where we are content.
While the phrase, and the people saying it, mean well, it is not Biblically based, nor is it a mature, Christian way to approach our lives. God often calls us to do things that are outside of our comfort zones – things we don’t want to do, things that we aren’t comfortable doing. Sometimes people who are shy are called to ministries that put them on a stage. Or, extroverts may be drawn to a calling that doesn't have an audience. I believe that God uses us in areas where we aren't so comfortable so that we learn to rely fully on him instead of our own strength. 
But, sometimes, it is much simpler than that. There are callings in the Bible that are global. We have a tendency to want to forget about these. But, they require just as much obedience as our individual callings do. One such calling is that God calls for each of us to love one another. I taught a version of this in my Sunday school class. I told them that I can easily say that I love each of them. They make me proud to be a part of their lives. Even when we don’t agree with each other 100%, we have a spirit of unity and comradery among us. So, it’s easy for me to love them. Other people, not so much. But, we are commanded to love our enemies, not just our friends. Maybe you’re thinking, “I just can’t do that.” Of course, you can’t in your own strength; we all must rely on Christ’s love and spirit that lives within us to do what we are called. Anointed preachers don’t preach on their own volition. They preach through the Spirit of God living within them.
I recently began keeping a prayer journal. In it, I have a list of things that I am specifically praying for: my job, our YA group, my marriage, my family, church leadership. I have several other categories too. But, in looking at my list, I noticed that it was not just full of people whom I love; it was full of people who love me back. Those are the people that it is easy to pray for. So, I added a page about praying for my enemies. I will be honest, the prayers that I want to pray for my enemies (God, please get them, make them pay for what they've done, etc. You see the theme.) are not the prayers that I wanted to write in my prayer journal. So, I Googled and found some good points of how to pray for our enemies (ask that God forgive them just as Jesus did on the cross, ask that God give them a spirit of wisdom, ask that God root them and ground them in love, etc.). These prayers have made it to my journal. It isn’t always easy. But, saying those prayers is starting to change my feelings toward my enemies.
Matthew 5:43-49 MSG
43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. 48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
"Grow up?!" Ouch! Most people will encourage us to give what we get, but revenge isn’t ours to give. If we just follow our heart and do what feels good, we can easily justify poor behavior toward our enemies. Our hearts like to think the best of ourselves and worst of others — unless those others happen to think well of us, then they are wonderful people. But if they don’t think well of us, or even if they just disagree with us, well then, something is wrong with them. And while our hearts are pondering our own virtues and others’ errors, it can suddenly find some immoral or horribly angry thought very attractive.
I recently saw a video from the Olympics. A Russian skier had broken a ski during a cross-country competition and was struggling immensely to keep going. But, a coach from the Canadian team brought a ski to the Russian skier, "Because I know the hard work it takes to get here, so I wanted to make sure that he [the Russian skier] finished the race."
We are all in a race and pressing toward our calling. Like the Olympians, we may even find ourselves on different teams: Young Adults, Soul Patrol/Children's Church, Church Board, Worship Team, Senior Adults, Widows/Widowers, etc. But, we are all striving to finish the race before us. How many times do we see others on our journey with a broken ski, spiritually speaking? When that fellow Christian has brokenness, what do we do? Do we just keep our eyes forward and act like we don’t see it? Do we tell them that they messed up, and if they had done things the right way, their ski wouldn’t have broken? Or, do we get our spare ski and offer it to them so that we are sure that we both finish the race? It is easy, and most likely our natural inclination, to do what would benefit us the most and not give much thought to those who aren’t on our team. So, we must learn to incline our hearts in that direction (Psalm 119:112).

Our hearts were never designed to be followed, but to be led. Our hearts weren't designed to be gods in whom we believe; they were designed to believe in God. So, instead of following your heart, I want to encourage you each to lead your heart. Choose who you love. Choose to love. Period.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

70 x 7

My husband and I had the opportunity to chaperone a YA Winter Retreat in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, for the YA group at our church this past weekend. Below is a devotion that we did together. Enjoy!  

"Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance."  
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Some of you know about mine and Calvin’s 24-hour rule. When we got married, part of our vows were based on 1 Corinthians 13. In that chapter, the Bible tells us that love keeps no record of wrongdoings. So, if Calvin or I are upset with each other about something, we talk about it that day – get out all of our disappointments, frustrations, or anger. But, once the day is over, so is the argument. We have an agreement that we don’t bring up past mistakes or points of contention later on. What’s done is done, so we move forward.

The love that Paul was writing about in 1 Corinthians wasn’t specifically meant toward husbands and wives. Do you know who he was talking to? The Church. In his wisdom, Paul knew that we wouldn’t always like each other – we wouldn’t always like the decisions that are made or how someone does something in the church. He knew that is was inevitable that we wouldn’t always see eye-to-eye with everyone. I’ve said many times before that the more I know some people, the less I like them. Sometimes the situations or disagreements that we have with other church folks makes it hard to like them. Even when we don’t like what they have done, we are urged to love them so much that we don’t keep score. We have to remember to be willing to forgive that person over and over.

I borrowed the following from a devotion by Steven Furtick. 

"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?' Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'" (Matthew 18:21-22)

When Peter approaches Jesus about the issue of forgiveness and offers up the number seven, it's more than just a number. Within Judaism, forgiving someone three times is sufficient. So Peter's offer of seven is over twice the requirement and, in comparison to the law, a generous offer. At least, I'm sure that's what Peter is thinking.

But instead of approving of this, Jesus actually raises the stakes and tells Peter to forgive "not seven times, but seventy-seven times." I can almost see Peter's jaw dropping. Jesus is getting the point across: "It's not a numbers game." It's a heart issue, not a math problem. It's not about marking something off of a checklist; it's about living a lifestyle of love and grace.
Our world operates totally in opposition to this principle. We depend on give and take. Balance and counterbalance. Debits and credits. We like keeping score, which begins to look like a toxic game of tug of war: You hurt me, so I'll hurt you. You treated me nicely, so I'll treat you nicely. You offended me, so I'll offend you.

The problem with this is that when you keep score in a relationship, everyone loses. As followers of Christ, we're not called just to forgive when it's convenient and fair. We're called to live in forgiveness. And it isn't just a good idea or some helpful advice; it's foundational.
In every relationship, there's one thing for certain — both you and the other person will be imperfect. You will both mess up, you will both make mistakes, and you will both need to apologize. Rather than keeping score, though, try keeping a commitment to forgive.