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May 7, 2012

Lots of Good Things are Just More Things

Lots of Good Things are Just More Things

Lots of Good Things are Just More ThingsSo it has been a couple of days into my fast from social media, and just as I expected, God is using a highlighter, bold print and italics everywhere to make a statement to me.

Clarity is the nature of fasting.  If you have never before fasted, I challenge you to consider it. There is nothing like removing the things we rely upon and exchanging those experiences for reliance on the Lord to gain perspective–insight even–into what has been turning our wheels.

Thematic in purpose, the statements I am hearing at a heart-level from God all amount to the same point. For all the striving I have done in the past couple of years through various venues, the outcome is the same…it falls short of God’s best for me and my family.  It is not His heart for me.

They are all lots of GOOD things, sure.  But in effect, they are just MORE things that amount to NOTHING–nothing that will last.

Down the road, they are like tumbleweeds blowing across the field. Perhaps someone will spray paint it white for a snowman centerpiece on their dining room table. But they will never grasp what its original intent was in my hands nor will it carry on the same story. Not to say that it wasn’t good or beneficial.  It was!  But in the long run, it was ineffective and a distraction for me from my main purpose.

And what is my main purpose??  Ah now, that is a very good question–the BEST question even!  It is a question we all should ask ourselves…and take the time to listen for the answer. My main purpose is to be soft clay in God’s hands, ready to obey Him and willing to let Him shape and mold me for the path on which He has placed me.

What path?

The path is the one God has wrought–which I can choose or not choose at any time.

With whom and for whom?

Well first, I am His daughter. He knows me–through and through.  He loves me.  He is closer than my breath–no need for long distance. He thinks about me all the time.  He is constantly setting me up for success–not in the world’s eyes, no–but for the plans He has for me.  He makes a way in my desert.  He listens for my voice.  He loves to hear from me…and I talk with Him all the time. We are close, like that.

Then I am wife and best friend to my Chris. He loves me and makes me better than I am.  He causes me to laugh–all the time.  I only ever want to dream with him about our future. We are and have always (since we have known one another) been together in this journey with God, living before God. In tandem, we cycle through this race for the goal. We raise the bar for one another. We share words with our eyes all the time.  And we laugh at the same things, which no one else would get. We love each other deeply–in good times and in bad.  We are close, like that.

Then I am mother to four, wonderfully-made and diverse children. My main focus during these growing years for them is to keep my hand on the pulse of their hearts and to continually spur them on toward following God’s path for them. My Chris and I shape their hearts and hone their minds, so that they walk in the light of God’s best for them.  They will walk, as we do–so my job, too, is to keep honest before God and ask for His help in walking out some very difficult and also diverse trails. I share with them unconditional love.  I spend myself to teach them to love and serve by how I love and serve them. And I listen to them. I make time to be available to hear their hearts.

Everything and everyone that comes beyond these three points MUST align with the first three…must PROMOTE the first three.  With intention and purpose, I have choices to make about what makes up the rest. I cannot assume here that I have no choice.  I DO have a choice.  I cannot control the circumstances, no.  But I can control how and where I build–how and where I focus–how and where I steward every part of myself.

Because lots of good things are going on–opportunities have presented themselves, motives have come to light and goals, which may or may not support my main priority–I must choose among them.  So I have to ask myself, are these just MORE things or are they purposed for promoting my main agenda (those first three points)?

Along the same lines, I do believe we are to walk with God and do the next thing He brings.  The hardest part is determining if THIS is the next thing He has for me OR is this a distraction, which will diffuse my passion for the main things. How do we know?  Well, trial and error is not the best method here.  What I believe IS the best method can be found in James 1:5-8.  Ask God believingly for wisdom…

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Because rather than tumbleweeds, I want to forge some deep roots into the soil, which will develop a strong family tree that continually retrieves nutrients and bears not only MUCH fruit, but GOOD fruit–the lasting kind that will not blow away and be repurposed.

That, my  friends, is enough to keep me looking, walking and thriving — for it really does matter what I do and how I think and what I will be (not leaving those I love and care for in the hands of Que Sera Sera–what will be will be).  It matters for all eternity.

Choosing Best with Jesus’ Help,

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HINGE

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At the beginning of the year, I decided to change-up my Bible reading plan. Usually, because I like order and checklists, I start at Genesis and go through. I got daring one time and went in chronological order. This year I decided to start with the New Testament, because usually by the time I get there in my reading plan, I am worn out. My get up and go has gotten up and tried to leave, as my mama would say. I wanted to have fresh eyes for The Good News.

One of the things I really love about my current Bible are the footnotes. I don’t always agree with them, but they always make me think. While reading about the Transfiguration, I found this one footnote very interesting.

The disciples were at the crucial point of commitment to Jesus. Everything hinged on who He was to them. (The Women’s Study Bible, Thomas Nelson)

Much like the disciples, we don’t know what is coming this year. For many of us, January threw us for a loop. For the rest, there will most likely be some loops down the road. As is the case so often with our lives, men and women alike, many of the battles we face are in the privacy of our own hearts and minds. We may have let in a person or two, and in wisdom probably should, but the nitty-gritty of the battle is inside ourselves. Even when these battles turn public, either because someone through us into the spotlight or because the signs of warfare are visible, we still must rage the war from the inside. We can go through the motions outwardly, we can look as if to be making all the right maneuvers, but if we are not solidifying our very core with the truth of God’s word, we will not endure.

Everything will hinge on who He is to us.

Walking faithfully in victory will hinge on who He is to us.

Getting up from a seemingly obliterating defeat will hinge on who He is to us.

All the in between will hinge on who He is to us.

And who He is to us is determined in the very closets of our lives. In our alone time of prayer and study. In our private moments of joyful celebration. In our secret moments of primal pain.  The church body and fellowship can build us up when we are wounded and keep our feet on the ground when we feel exalted. Our friends and family are so very necessary in these battles. The hand to hand combat, however, is ours. It is at those moments, much like the disciples, when we find ourselves at a crucial point in out commitment to Christ. Will we trust Him to be who He says He when the battle gets bloody? Will we keep Him exalted in His rightful place when we advance in victory?

Everything hinges on who He is to us.

Sweet sisters, I challenge you as much as myself, solidify who Jesus is. Not prove it. Not work it out. Solidify who He has already told you He was.

Advocate. Deliverer. Our Hope. Peace. Redemption. Healer.

Our very God with us.

Beseech the Holy Spirit to give you fresh eyes to see Christ for He IS.

Everything hinges on it.

2 Timothy 2:19 (NKJV)

 ” Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,”…”

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When Plans Change

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Yesterday didn’t go the way I had planned.

I had planned to “get organized”, get done those items that didn’t get done before I left for Houston to help with my new niece, get done the organization and plans to start school back today with the kids after way too long off for Christmas break.

As I sat at the table yesterday afternoon, fretting over what to keep doing school-wise, what to let go, what each child needs and how in the world am I going to get it done – the stress beginning to fill me, the tension in my shoulders bearing down, my husband came in and wordlessly, handed me his iPad to read.  In a moment, everything I had planned, everything I was fretting over, everything I thought was important was rendered meaningless.

Yesterday morning, on their way to school, a dear friend and his 14 year old daughter were in a car accident.  She died.  So in the wake of this news, yes, all my plans were put in their proper place as “not that big of a deal” and “there is more to this life”.  Everything was shoved aside as we wept and prayed, made and received phone calls as the news disseminated among the community of those that love these dear ones, and as we began to walk a new path with our children.  They had experienced the death of an extended family member, the death of a child of friends, but this was the first time it was a peer…someone their age, someone they had hung out with and played with and laughed with.  I didn’t plan on having these conversations with my kids.  My plans were changed.

We had been asked at AMH to consider and write about those things that we are often wrestling with at the new year, and what it means to bring them before Jesus and sit at his feet.  As I think about “plans made” and “plans unmade” and how to deal with the uncertainty that life this side of Heaven brings, I can only point to the certainty of the One who holds us tightly in His hands.  We can and should make plans – but we must hold those plans with a loose grip.  God is the one who directs and redirects.  We are often angry when our plans are unmade or frustrated, shaking our fist at God screaming ,”Don’t you know all the things I have to get done???”

But it’s days like yesterday, and today, and tomorrow, that I am reminded of what is important – and what is needful – and who it is that walks me through this life.  His plans are sometimes hard to handle – they are not always the plans I would have made.  But I rest in his heart for me.  I rest in his heart for our dear friends who did not have the death of their dear daughter in their plans.  So as we continue to make our plans,  give thanks to the Great Planmaker who holds his children in His tender hands.  He has shown his great love for us by the gift of his Son. Hold loosely to our plans and tightly to His hands.

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Balloon Release

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Imagine yourself sitting in the most peaceful, reflective, restorative, beautiful place of which you know and close your eyes for a moment. Hear the sounds of the birds, perhaps some water trickling down a brook or pounding into the shore. Smell the air–woodsy, sweet, salty or spicy. Now, if you will, imagine with me a bench–any kind of bench that will fit two people, you and Jesus.

He walks up intently, with the swish of robes, smelling of aromatic spices, and He sits down close beside you. His Presence envelops the space and His arm wraps engagingly ’round about you. Then He asks you in a gentle and loving, imploring even, voice:

“What is it you want, Beloved?”

How might you respond? What things might you say, while holding back others that you want to say. Flippantly you might answer, “Oh peace on earth, a steady job and health for my family.” But Jesus isn’t buying it. You can read it in His eyes. As He repeats the question again, looking you directly in the eyes,

“No, what is it you WANT, Beloved?”

So you sit back and feel the import of His drilling question, and without invitation, a tear courses down your face, as you suddenly find yourself bent over in grief with your head down on your lap. The tears flow freely now. You begin to pour out your soul to Him, as He nods in understanding. He “gets” you.  He can handle your wounded-ness.  He can hold your tears (keeps them in a bottle, in fact!).  I believe He uses those tears to water the things you will sow from this season.

Jesus invites us to ask. He engages us in the conversation of a lifetime, daily–even moment by moment.

This scenario happens to me often, whether I am in the shower, in the car or sitting by the window, considering His creation.  He asks me personally and gently, “Holly, what is it you want, Beloved?” I begin to pour it out–the pain, longing, anguish, anxiety and brokenness.  I tell Him how I am hurting.  I tell Him how I long for restoration, for recovery, direction, reconciliation and resurrection. Sometimes as I sing a song, I begin to cry, as I discover that the words I am singing are really a prayer in answer to His probing question to my soul. But in the end, every single time I hear His question to my heart, I pour out four words that say everything,

“I want You, Jesus. Lord, I want You.  More than everything else I have said, I want You, Jesus.”

You see God gives good gifts to His children.  He wants us to ask.  He waits for our questions.

Like Hezekiah in 2 Kings (Chapters 18-20 are worth your time to read), in all of Judah there was no king like him, ever. He  trusted in, leaned on, and was confident in the Lord, the God of Israel.  He trusted so confidently, that when he was very ill and near death, even hearing from Isaiah that he was going to die.  Hezekiah earnestly prayed and God changed the course of His intended will for Hezekiah.  He gave him 15 more years! That in itself is amazing–to know that God hears our earnest prayers and sometimes He even changes the course of His intended will!  It is so powerful to believe in the ability we have before God, when we earnestly pray.

But then Hezekiah gets proud and shows off all his riches to a visiting group of Babylonians–everything!  It displeases God and God says, I will bring punishment on your children and everything you showed these Babylonians will be taken away into their own hands.  You know what Hezekiah did? He basically said, “Oh this is good!  At least it won’t happen in my time! Let the punishment fall on my children.”

We are all flawed.  We all ask with wrong motives.  We ALL get caught up in comfort and security. But when we consider our questions before God, do we take into account the legacy that we are leaving?  Are we looking out for the future–for our children’s sake?

You see, God asks each of us this question–What is it that you want, Beloved? Your answer is what you sow.  Your tears are watering it.  God brings the increase from it!

For my own questions lately, and I have asked some HARD ones, I have begun to see what it is the LORD requires of me.  It isn’t going to be easy.  The process itself has completely torn me up inside.  But this very day, I have asked my question, and in faith I am sowing my answer for the future–for my children and future generations.

You see, I cannot serve both God and money or man.  I cannot be wrapped up in security, comfort or even peace-keeping for the sake of peace-keeping. I am building fully, trustingly on the Rock, which is Jesus. I cannot be halfway following God and halfway following the world. I must be wholeheartedly His. With humbleness of heart, I am asking God to help me keep my eyes focused on future generations–for the line of the LORD to stay strong in my family.

So this very day, I have taken a few balloons. Inside each one, I have placed a faith-filled question, a prayer of what I want and a statement of trust. With all that I am, I am releasing them into the sky, to God, from my little bench by the brook.  They are His.  In His Hands, my questions, my prayers, my heart and my deepest desires are SAFE. I can let them go. I can walk on in peace.

What questions do you have for Him this day?  What statements of trust can you make? What balloons do you need to fill and release? Do it!

For what you sow in prayer will most certainly bring an abundant harvest that cannot be destroyed by moths or rust.

Sow Well,

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The Gospel and Generosity

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…when justice for the poor is connected not to guilt but to grace and to the gospel, this “pushes the button” down deep in believer’ souls, and they begin to wake up.  – Tim Keller Generous Justice

I have been reading recently books and articles on the subject of justice and helping the poor.  It has come out of a desire to understand the church universal’s role biblically in the face of a cultural mindset that seeks the answers in government institutions.  I have wrestled with what I think about that – I want to know what the right course of action is – thus the readings.

But I have also found in me a desire to be more generous on a personal level.  One would think that two years on the mission field in Peru, working with some of the poorest in the world, I would have a a heart of generosity.  Unfortunately, the opposite happened – as a result of my experience in Peru, I found myself hard, calloused and cynical.  How could that be?  Well…

I forgot the gospel.

I forgot how poor I am.

I was offended by the bad behavior some of the poor would use to get what they needed.

I wanted them to be honest and grateful and, in some way, earn my generosity.

I forgot that I am just like they are.

Poor in spirit.  Poor in heart.  Self-protecting.  Self-justifying.  I will do whatever I need to do to get what I think I need.

I also am poor – not in the same way – but poor nonetheless.

Tim Keller, in his little gem of a book, Generous Justice, calls believers to consider those suffering poverty and injustice,  just as God considered us – as  poor and in need.  As Jesus so eloquently states to the Pharisees, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”(Luke 5:31-32)  It is because we were shown generosity from God the Holy One, condescending, becoming “poor” in more ways than just taking on flesh, in order to rescue us from the slavery of sin and death, that we would overflow with grace and generosity for others, especially those who are suffering day to day, moment to moment, just to survive without basic needs.  Not out of guilt, as the quote above suggests.  Not out of legalism – we HAVE to love the poor because that’s what we are supposed to do.  Not out of a political agenda that seeks to manipulate the weak for it’s own uses.  Not out of a feeling of superiority – pride – I’m so good I even look after the poor….

We do it because we know that we are just the same.  There are many ways to be poor.  Our Lord Jesus became poor in every way that one can – financially, relationally, physically, and yes, even spiritually – that He might raise us up with him in glory.  It is the gospel that enables us to do the same for one another of mankind.

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