Thursday, August 10, 2017

Courage, Dear Heart. You are Free.

"I feel paralyzed."

These words slipped out of my mouth as I sat across the table from one of the influential women who have poured into my life. That was the only word that expressed the lacking of power, courage, and hope I felt when in a certain situation. And as I contemplated how I was going to deal with being faced with a situation like the one we were talking about, that was all I could feel. Paralyzed. I was captivated by that feeling. Powerless. 

I imagine you know a bit of what it feels like to be held captive by a feeling. Maybe it is fear. Or hopelessness. Maybe it is anger or bitterness. Regardless, at some point in time I am sure each and every one of us has felt what it is like to unable to move around a feeling we have felt about a situation or person. And the problem is, most times how we feel influences our actions. Or lack of action. 

I feel like getting to have a relationship with Jesus has never ending discoveries. I am always learning something new. And what He has shown me recently is that I am no longer a slave to sin. I am empowered through Him to choose not to sin. And it doesn't mean I don't sin. But that I don't have to be trapped by it. I don't have to be stuck in it. I don't have to choose it. But the question is why? Why am I free? How am I free? Are these just words that are like a big, abstract idea that I can know but not practice? 

I don't think so.

Back when Jesus was on earth, He spoke these words, "If you abide in My word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free... Most assuredly I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave to sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:31-36). The truth is that Jesus has redeemed me. He has bought me and brought me into His kingdom (Colossians 1:13). And He says that if He makes me free, which He has, I will be free indeed.

 I get the idea that Jesus isn't just for big, impractical ideas that sound nice. His word is truth. And it's real. And powerful. If He says I am free, I am free. INDEED. 
“Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” ‭‭John‬ ‭8:31-32‬ ‭NKJV‬‬
(Pc: Pinterest)
It says in Romans we are to reckon ourselves dead to sin but alive to Christ. And that sin no longer has power over us. No dominion. No rule. No authority (Romans 6:11-14). But instead we are alive in Christ... Because He now lives in us. The all-powerful God who made the heavens and earth. Who formed us out of the dust of the earth and crafted us in His image. The One who sustains each day. The One who perfectly covers all sins when we believe on Him. He is alive in us (Galatians 2:20). 

He is in me. And the verse which I was given in the conversation before mentioned- when I cried out that I was paralyzed and unable to move- was 2 Timothy 1:7. 

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, 
but of power and of love and of a sound mind (self-discipline)." 

I am not longer a slave to fear. I am no longer a captive. I have been set free. I have Jesus living in me. And His power and love live in me. Giving me new life. He has given me the ability, through His power, to say no to sin. To say I will not be trapped. I will not be ruled. I don't have to submit to the chains of fear, worry, anger, and bitterness. I do not have to submit to lies. The chains which I allow to hold me so often... they don't have to stay on. Because Jesus has set me free. 

So if you feel trapped, lost, or hopeless... turn to Him and ask Him to show you just how free you are. He says if we lack wisdom to ask Him. So ask (James 1:5). He is a good Father and gives us what we need. 

Let Him whisper the words "Courage, dear heart. You are free in Me. You can be BOLD in Me. For I am with you." 

"Courage, dear heart."
(Pc: Pinterest)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Feeling Homesick

This is where I find that I do know what I long for. It's eternity with Him
Pc: Pinterest
If anyone has hung out with me a fair amount, they probably are very aware that I really enjoy talking about personalities- specifically the Myers-Briggs 16 personality types made up of different combinations of four pairs of letters. Another hobby of mine is scrolling down Pinterest and finding quotes, pictures, and thoughts that relate to my personality type. Needless to say, there are always plenty of suggested pins relating to the INFJ personality on my Pinterest feed.

Recently I was scrolling through and found a quote that hit home. But in an oddly sobering way. The quote read as follows: "I am homesick for a place I am not sure even exists. One where my heart is full. My body loved. And my soul is understood."  This quote hits home. How often I have known this feeling. Wanting a place of belonging. Wanting acceptance. Wanting security. Wanting purity. Wanting ultimate purpose and life. 

I have searched. And longed. Pining for something I wasn't even sure existed in the real world. Maybe that is part of why fantasy was always so drawing to me in my childhood. The worlds with magic and beauty. Enchanting. Filled with gorgeous colors. Ending with a the hero riding off into the sunset. Like the song from Hercules "I have often dreamed of a far place where a great warm welcome will be waiting for me... and a voice keeps sayin' this is where I'm meant to be." 

Whether you are a slightly giddy, halfway lost in the clouds, romantic like myself or a solidly planted on the ground, analytically minded individual, I am sure you know what I am talking about. Everyone wants to have a home. A place of belonging. Somewhere where they are whole and full. 

But where is home? Where is that place? Where am I whole? Where do I finally feel satisfied? Not running after the next emotional high? Not looking to hide from reality? Is there such a place? 

What if I told you there was a place? What if I told you there is place where you can feel satisfied? Where you can know rest? Where you can be whole? Where you can come home? 

Because there is.

I like the first couple chapters of Genesis a lot. They are are so full of newness. Perfection. Life. And in there we get to read about our origin story. How we were created in God's image (Genesis 1:25-26). How walking with Him and having a relationship with Him was how we were created to be. How we were made perfect. How He designed us intimately. If you have ever wondered about your value or worth as a human being, take a moment to look at Psalms 139, specifically verses 13-16. We are created by an all powerful God and He knows us deeply. All our complexities and quirks. 

Pc: Pinterest
But unfortunately, starting with the very first humans and working up into each of us individuals, we have turned away from God. And guys, He made what was good. And perfect. And right. And when we walk away from Him we enter a world of darkness because walking away from Him and His design from this earth... that is the opposite of life. The opposite of fullness. The opposite of beauty. Every good and perfect thing is from Him (James 1:17)- and when we walk away it's just... gone. And we are left so stinking empty. I have spent probably 3/4 of my life living on empty. Trying to fill a void that was there because I deliberately cut myself off from the Giver of life. Like taking myself off life support and pretending I can breath though I am choking on the very air that surrounds me. 

I just want to throw my hands up in the air! Because despite my running from God, despite my desire to do things my way, to find my own life, He still pursued me. And put people in my life pointing me to Him. Pointing to Him as the only source of true life. Because He is the Creator. And because He loved us so much He came down in the body of a Man. And suffered. And cared for others. And stinking died for us. And because He is so ultimately powerful and cool and awesome, He could not be held by death. But rose from the dead and triumphed over it. And even though this was 2000 years ago, He still is pursuing and calling us to Him. Because He loves us a ridiculous amount. And wants us to be in that place of relationship with Him, because only there is true life. 

Guys- I've lived empty. And broken. Messed up to the very core. Living in fear. In death. In darkness. Controlled by fear and obsession. And feeling compulsions to do things. Feeling lonely. And so far removed. With no connection. With no hope. Just searching for the next emotional high. Just looking for some source of joy. Or purpose or something...

But because God put the right people in the right places at the right time... because of His great love for me and because He showed me that I could have a relationship with Him- and that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6)- I can say that I finally know where my place of belonging and satisfaction is. It's with Him. Because that is where we were designed to be. And without Him, we all have a ridiculous void. That is like this massive chasm that we are trying to fill and it just never happens. In His presence. In His company, which He invites us to, is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). Not just dosages of happiness. It's like... fullness of joy. Where my heart IS full. Where I am fully LOVED. Where my soul UNDERSTOOD and FULL. And this is for now. And forever. 

The cool thing is- it's real. It's legit. And I know you, whoever you are, know what I am talking about. So let me ask you a question... What is holding you back from coming to the source of life? Do you feel homesick? Why don't you come home? 

Pc: Pinterest

I'll just leave you with this link to this ridiculously cool video someone showed me. And yeah. You should watch it. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Something to Remember

Its moments like this when I am sitting in my car. Lights on, window rolled down for the fresh mountain air, laptop propped on my lap, writing away to the background noise of some of my favorite country songs when I realize that, while I have come to love being with people, I am still an introvert. My social battery still runs dry. I still find myself exhausted and needing a respite from the stimulus of being around people.

Love Triangle by RaeLynn echoes from the playlist on my phone. It has been one of my songs that I have loved listening to the past couple months. I wonder if in a couple more months it will be a source of memory for this summer. One of those old songs that bring you back to a certain time, place, and memory. The kind that are bittersweet. Always going back to another time and place but filling you with such feelings.

I’m trying to remember the last two months in full. What it was like at the beginning of the summer when I began this Christian leadership training program. How have I changed? How have I grown? What have I learned?

I think of my older brother telling me how coming to this program would change my life, though he didn’t know how. I think of my mentor encouraging me to allow this summer to be a time where I am drawn into God’s loving arms. And then I realize that both of these statements which I recall ring truer than I could ever imagine. And it is almost like a worship song – I’ve tasted and seen of the sweetest of loves…

And I have. Not of my own power. Or my own ability. And here is where my heart quickens. God, my God, of the universe did draw me out into the mountains to surround me with His loving arms and to show me Himself more deeply. To show me He is my Father. My Abba. To show me I am His. I am His beloved. Can I just stop for a second- mouth wide open in amazement? If you haven’t heard the good news, you need to. God loves you. And He wants a relationship with you. Stop for a second. Look into the night sky. Get up early and gaze at the morning sunrise. Stand in awe in the midst of a thunderstorm. The God who designed and sustains this earth, this universe, He wants you. And for you to know Him and to feel His love. He wants to give new life. New hope. Fill you with purpose.
I wish I could speak more eloquently. I wish I could express the truth more clearly. But then I don’t have to because the words are already written. Full of truth. And mercy. From John 3:16- where we see that Jesus, who is God, came to earth as a Man and gave His life so that those who believe in Him will be saved; to Galatians 2:20 where we see that if we come to know Jesus it is no longer us who live but Christ who lives in us and makes us whole again; to Galatians 4:7 and John 1:12 where we see that we are children of God; and into Revelations 21 where it is revealed that we will be alive in Christ forever. One day completely new and whole in Him- not just in soul but also in body.
And then I realize that while I have been God’s precious daughter for so long, I have rarely claimed this promise. This inheritance. I have walked in fear, instead of trust. Walked in my ways, not His. And yet He pursues me. He is faithful. Because He drew me into the mountains to show me, among other things, that I am His. I am whole. I am complete. I am made new. I am His beloved daughter. I can run into His arms each morning. Each moment. I can know His loving embrace. I can know that one day, I will see Him physically in person. And for now, I can still turn to Him for wisdom, guidance, strength, and comfort each day. He is my Rock. He is my Refuge. He is my Strength. He is my Abba. He is my God.

When I hear a song from this summer, I don’t want to just remember the fun things I did, or the people I have come to love, or the amazing experiences I had. Yes, I want to remember these things. But more than this, I want to be reminded that I am new. I am whole. I am His. I can stand on His strength and pour into others. I want to remember that Jesus is so faithful. And He knew just how to reach me- personally and intimately- this summer.

This evening there was a terrific display of a rainbow presented in the sunset filled sky. A reminder of one of God’s promises long ago. The same God who made a promise which He faithfully presents in a rainbow, thousands of years later, has promised us that we can be His children. Citizens in His Kingdom of Love. And one thing I never want to forget from this summer is the truth that I am a citizen of His Kingdom, made new and alive by Him. A daughter of the King. I will never have to face anything alone. Because I am held by the One who holds the stars. And because I am His beloved.

“Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?...
If I take the wings of the morning
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me
And Your right hand shall hold me…”

-Psalm 139

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

When the Dragon Rears Its Head

I feel like writing is one of the things which comes fairly naturally to me. When I was in grade school I would spend hours plugging away as various stories. I wrote with paper and pencil, I typed on the computer, and I developed stories in my brain while I played and rested. I know some of my siblings and friends had, and may even still have, little books about puppies or racehorses or a short story about a whale which I gifted to them. For about as long as I can remember I have loved to create stories, planning the characters and the names, developing the plot, infusing the tale with deep emotions. I could spend literally days putting together a plot simply for my Playmobile characters to carry out.

But the trouble came when I started to lose footing in the real world. When I placed one foot in reality, enough to function and act as normal as possible, and one foot in a world that was simultaneously beautiful and terrifying.

It was several years ago, possibly in seventh or eighth grade, when I began to recognize that my imagination had a propensity for getting me in trouble. For getting me lost. For starting me down the wrong path. Considering the distance of time which has transpired between then and now, I don't remember all my decision making processes but I do remember trying to control my story telling which had literally moved to consume the entirety of most of my days. I would be detailing a fictional world while I mucked my horse's pen or saddled her for a ride. If Bible time was boring, it was no problem to retreat into my internal world. Fear and intrusive thoughts, which had become normal with my obsessive-compulsive-like complex, were easier to put away when I could simply turn off the real world and fade back into a world I couldn't quiet touch but could feel deeply.

But from time to time, I decided a certain story had to go, perhaps because it was too consuming, and then I made up rules about what would happen if I resurrected that story. I placed possibilities of me randomly contracting a cancer as a consequence. But it was never good enough. The fear would die down or I would find a way to outwit my rules and start a new story line, with fresh characters and an exciting plot. My internal stories became the place where I was focused, spending a good part of any activity- whether playing, working, or doing school- vastly devoted to this past time.

Looking back, I see how long the struggle has been. Somewhere back in the past, my stories and imagination had become a place of hiding and security. But what once was innocent had become twisted and was infused with a daily struggle to fight against fear. These fears were deeply entwined with the possibility of breaking a rule or a promise I had made in an effort to control something or another, or the fear of displeasing God. And there was also the possibility that what wasn't real was real, which opened a place of logically knowing what was realistic but emotionally not being sure what was logical.

Over the years I would continue to fight this dragon of my imagination, sometimes going months without indulging in creating a fictional world, and sometimes caving into my need to create an alternate reality with people who surpassed insane odds and conquered difficult obstacles no matter what their trial. I came to simultaneously love and hate this monster. To both know it was no help to continue living through fictional characters and likewise, to crave being away from reality. It became an addiction. An addiction to fantasy. And in a world like this, there is no room to get to know God and enjoy His presence. And that is where the ultimatum lay: to follow God, to know His undying joy, or to keep walking my way.

It turns out I have had to learn an important lesson about surrendering things which might not be inherently bad but are an intense stumbling block to one's self. I've had to learn, and relearn, to be sure! that sometimes we have to surrender what we want to God and that He knows what is best. And that He can provide something that is better. And He has. Getting to know Him, to be able to rest in His presence, and more fully experience seeing His glory through His creation have all been worth while trade offs.

A life in Christ is not a life of bondage. He is freedom and life. And that which pulls us away from Him is always leading to chains and living in a box. A verse I have found encouraging is found in Galatians chapter 5, verse 1.

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, 
and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.

While this verse is applying to things other than my love of living in fantasy, I think it can be applied directly to my situation. I may always have a weakness for retreating into fantasy and blocking myself off from reality. But I know Christ is my freedom. And He says not to be entangled by things which we have already been freed from. Christ lives in me (Gal. 2:20). I no longer have to be a slave to my whims, fears, and stumbling blocks. Without these things crowding in, I can learn about and experience God for more deeply. And you know, I still believe He has given me an imagination to be used. Just not for the things which lead to fear and imprisonment and stagnation in my growth in Him. Yes, music can still cause my mind to imagine far off places or take flight to the top of a mountain. And I so like to contemplate what the new earth and heaven will be like. And I think He has redeemed my imagination in this way. Not to say "don't use it" but to use it in a way which does not draw me away from God but instead pushes me closer. 

So maybe. Just maybe if you have been struggling a long time or have had a relapse into some old habit, have courage! If you give it to God, I have faith He knows what is better for you. And since He is the all-powerful, good, holy, and perfect, we can trust that what He has is what is good and more complete than what we have fashioned for ourselves. 

And I write this for myself as a reminder. A reminder that a life in Him is always better. Turning aside is never worth it. Keep on fighting. Keep on walking. Trust in the Lord. Lean on His strength. Follow Him. It is always what is best in the long run. 

Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.
- John 8:36

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Closed Door

My life feels like it revolves around paperwork right now. Apply for this. Apply for that. Ask someone for a recommendation. Remember due dates. Write convincing statements. Submit. Wait.

Of course it isn't true. There was a movie at the theater. Bible study with a friend. Making dinner. There was Christmas. And Christmas break. Those seven days in Florida, on the beach, in the ocean, and under the sun. And the almost two weeks I was out of town. And even now, I am happily not in the throes of filling out MORE paperwork. But it lurks in the back of my mind as a consistent nag, which is probably why I feel it is so much a part of my life.

The paperwork falls in the usual categories- scholarships, applying to different schools, filling out forms for the current school year, and of course, figuring out my summer plans. A couple months ago I took an dive at an opportunity of working with kids for the summer. I applied on a moment's inspiration, gifted to me by a dear friend. But as the moment of inspiration passed, the idea took root. I filled out MORE forms. I asked people to be references (a task I am not fond of). I had interviews. And I waited. I prayed, talking to God about this opportunity. I texted and chatted, talking to people in my life about this idea. And I waited some more. Through it all, I asked for direction. And for the right decision for me to be made. And I waited some more. Then the phone call for which I was eagerly waiting finally came. I was fairly certain I would get in. I would be able to claim this opportunity- if not into the first option I applied for then surely the second option... And now the phone rang.

I walked quickly from the room and answered the phone. But a couple minutes on the phone yielded a different answer than I had anticipated. The programs I was interested in doing were full- I wasn't needed. Being a Christian organization which I had applied to, I gave the appreciated comment somewhere along the lines of "if it isn't what God has for me, then that is all right!" I hung up and just like that my little network of how my summer was going to go, expertly designed and planned by me, caved in.

Oh, I wasn't devastated. A little disappointed. And the truth is if it isn't what God wants for me, then it isn't what I should want for me either. But deep down a little piece of me wants to be sulky. It wants to come out as a dramatic little girl. Why didn't I get to do what I wanted? It isn't fair. I have no idea what to do now. I have to remind myself this isn't the person I want to show- because after all its better to present the attitude of "oh I guess this is God's will then," right? Well, I am not that perfect and there is still a restless feeling lying beneath the surface. Waiting for an opportunity to get out. To play feel-sorry-for-me. And that is why I have to be reminded: A Closed Door is an Answer Too.

Yep. That is right. A closed door can be an answer. If I give a request to God... if I ask Him to work it according to His will  (and not so much my own)... if I decide what He has for me is better than what I have for me... then a closed door is also an answer.

God is the sovereign one. He is the one who knows the past, present, and future. He has been around literally forever- before we were even around to recognize the concept of forever. Just last night I lay in my bed and looked up into the blue-black night sky, dotted with the stars visible in the city. It was beautiful. And God is immense. Powerful. Beautiful. Magnificent. Holding this whole universe in His hand. Oh the heavens really do declare His glory- even if only a little piece of it. It is a nice way to fall asleep. And today, under the moody clouds and the answers which aren't quiet how I imagined, He is the same God. He doesn't change. And He is still the God I want in control of my life. I don't know best. He does.

So God, even though I might be disappointed, feel a tad lost, get a bit frustrated... help me to remember that You are a good Father, an all knowing God, and a loving Savior. You got me. You know what is and isn't for me. And like all good parents, You know sometimes "no" is just as good as "yes." So here is a reminder to me. Yes, a closed door can be Your answer. And "no, this isn't for you," can be an answer to prayer too. So thank You, God, for this reminder. And thank You that I can trust You.

Downstairs in my room, on my desk, is a little collection of rocks with memoirs written upon them. Things I need to remember. Visible reminders of God's hand in my life which last after the feelings. It is time to add another. And you can probably guess the phrase I intend to write on it. A Closed Door is an Answer Too.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Lesson from the Past: God's Perfect Plan

I grew up being home-schooled for the greater portion of my life. One of the fruits of this was the books which I was introduced to and fell in love with. As a child and teenager, a good deal of my readings were classics and historical fiction (which often cross paths), and while I might have protested this at one time, I am grateful that it was these kind of books I got to read. Now I must admit, I am not much of a factual reader. I will read for facts if necessary but when it comes to pleasure reading, I like a well written and engaging sort of book. Thus, despite the multitude of historical fiction which I have read, I paid less attention to dull historical facts and was more drawn to the story and emotion.

When I was in my early teens I got to know books by the author Rosemary Sutcliff, who often focused on historical novels within the Roman times. One story I remember is a gut twisting, heart wrenching tale of a young man who is rejected by people group after people group, subjected to slavery, and overall abused by civilization. The story ends rightly with a note of victory as he is prompted to try to live anew but the overall story is hard to swallow. Can you even imagine? A favorite book of mine, Ben-Hur, touches a similar note. Judah Ben-Hur is a wealthy prince in Israel during the time which the Romans are in control. Unexpectedly he is stripped of everything - family, title, possessions, and liberty. He, like the young outcasts described above, is subjected to slavery. Both stories make a good read, delve into the historical times, and envelope one in the trials and triumphs of the characters. Despite these stories being fictional, the idea is real, messy, and tough.

Recently, I came over a story which fell along a similar note. It can be found in the Bible- you know in the portion (Old Testament) which I have hardly visited the last several years. A journal gift from a friend prompted me to start reading Genesis once again and it has been amazing to see the different lessons which have presented themselves. It is not like I have never heard the stories of Genesis before, from the creation story all the way to Joseph's death in Egypt. I have heard most of them more than once. And yet, now they appear somewhat new. Things I would have never noticed before have begun to pop out. And truth to be told, the Old Testament of the Bible is not quiet as old and dull as it would seem,

Today, let us journey back in time before North America was even known to exist by most of civilization, before the focus was on Europe, before the Romans were the world power house, before the Greeks introduced democracy, before the Jewish people entered the Promise Land. Yes, our story takes us back to a time when the tribes of Israel were the names of living and breathing descendants of Abraham. The character I would have you recognize is Joseph, on of the twelve sons of Jacob. He is the favored son of his father, so I imagine he has it pretty good. However, Joseph is not the favorite of many of his brothers. As a matter of fact, one day some of these good fellows decide to sell him to merchants who are trekking across to Egypt (it was that or kill him- talk about sibling rivalry!)

Imagine. In an instant, Joseph goes from being the favored son to a nobody with nothing material of his own and without the ability to even proclaim himself his own. I imagine it was a hot, exhausting trip and that Joseph was certainly no passenger of honor- how difficult that would be. Would you despair? We are not told if Joseph despaired but I imagine he had his moments- lost, afraid, angry, disgraced. His next stop was to be sold to an Egyptian and from here at least the sun perhaps looked a little brighter. Joseph was made to have great success, even as a servant to his master Potiphar. Now what I find interesting here is that Joseph was said to have the LORD (Yahweh) with him. I am sure Joseph had times of despair and turning from God but it does seem that he chose to follow God rather than turn his back on Him in the heart of a struggle. So here is a lesson. What do I do? Do I allow God to have His hand actively in my life even in a tough season?

"The LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man."
-Genesis 39:2 

Well it seems that things are going a little better for Joseph. I mean he might still be held in Egypt but he is doing as well as can be and trusted by his master. So how about a plot twist? Joseph is accused of wickedness by his master's wife and is thrown into prison. How is that for frustrating? Have you ever been accused of something you did not do and had to suffer punishment? Joseph went from a high position once again to the low. He ended up in a dungeon. And yet even here God was with Joseph and helped him. Joseph was given authority here in the prison. God was faithful to Joseph and Joseph had the help of Yahweh to rely on. Next, Joseph is able to interpret dreams for two men demoted from working in the house of Pharaoh. One of these men dies and the other is allowed to continue as a butler. Despite Joseph asking the butler to help him out of prison, the butler goes his merry way and forgets about him. For two whole years. Now imagine how that comes across. Discouraging, am I right? If you send an e-mail to someone asking them to do something for you, it is down right frustrating after a few days to not receive a reply. But Joseph is forgotten by this excellent man for years. 

Ah, but God had a perfect plan. See He was going to use Joseph to save the lives of many- both Egyptians and eventually his brothers and father. Joseph may have not gotten out of prison when he wanted to, but God brought him out at just the right moment. See Pharaoh has dreams which no one can tell him the meaning of and that is when the butler recalls Joseph. Joseph, through the power of God, is able to interpret these dreams and they foretell of some years of prosperous crops and then some years of famine. Pharaoh's move is to give Joseph much power over the land of Egypt and Joseph is put in the position which will enable him to enforce a plan which will keep the Egyptians alive in the soon coming famine. God's plan was perfectly executed. Yes, it took a while and it was definitely painful for Joseph. However, it was worth it in the end. 

I wonder how God worked directly in Joseph during this time. Did He teach Joseph humility? Did He uproot pride? Did He teach him that God alone can provide? Did He teach him that God is trustworthy and righteous? Struggles push us to God and in the hands of God, a wonderful Craftsman, we can let Him mold us into what He wants us to be. We can be vessels through which He can execute His will. Joseph had to go through valleys and peaks for many years before he was in the position where God would use him for great things. (Not that that didn't mean God didn't use him in the other places. In Potiphar's household and in the dungeon Joseph appeared to learn to be faithful in whatever he was called to do and wherever he was.) 

I wonder if Joseph had to work through the emotional and psychological effects of rejection, abuse, and betrayal. I find it fascinating to look at the names of his two sons. The first is Manasseh. I looked this name up and it is defined as "to forget." Joseph is quoted as saying this about Manasseh, "For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father's house." His next son is named Ephraim and Joseph says, "For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction." I wonder if these names show healing for Joseph from the great Physician. His sons are some of the many blessings which God gives to him, despite all of the trials. Joseph never would have had his two sons if he had stayed in his father's house. What a beautiful reminder. God gives us good gifts, even when we are allowed to walk through the dry dessert or sail a turbulent sea. 

The end of the story will be familiar to anyone who has read it before. Joseph's brothers come to buy grain from Egypt because of the years of famine. Joseph eventually tells them he is their brother and instead of punishing them for what they did to him, he welcomes them, Jacob (their father), and all their family to live nearby. I love what Joseph says after his father dies and his brothers get nervous that he might be harboring anger against them. 

"Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones."
-Genesis 50:19b-21a

So many lessons. Many which I have yet to learn fully or haven't even yet begun. But may we submit ourselves to God and recognize that His plan is righteous, bigger, more beautiful, and perfect. He provides, guides, shepherds, comforts, refines. He is a loving Father and the God of the universe. I'll leave you with some lyrics from the song "You know better than I" from a cartoon movie about Joseph (which I haven't seen but I love the idea of the song.)

"For You know better than I
You know the way
I've let go the need to know why
For You know better than I."

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Real Deal

"But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Long-suffering and abundant in mercy and truth."-Psalm 86:15
"It is not religion, it is a relationship." If you have been around Christian circles at all, you have probably heard this. And you may have even used this phrase before. Whatever the case may be, whether you are a proponent of this catchy phrase or find it a little too cheesy, it is true.

This morning I did my usual get up, get ready for church, slip in, worship, listen to the message, and come home in time to get ready for work. I'd say it is routine by now but one thing has changed- I actually enjoy it. And I am uplifted. Encouraged. Inspired. It is quite a contrast to how I felt about Christianity most of my life. For many years I disliked any part of the whole church routine. Church was boring. Speakers were boring. Worship was just singing at best and grating on my nerves at worst. I often had to wear a dress, which was detestable to my little girl-self. The lights ended up giving me a headache. And I rarely felt anything grand afterwards. God was always distant and apathetic. And there was fear too. 

So what has changed?

For years, I hated anything to do with having to deal with my testimony. I had grown up in a Christian home my whole life. I went to AWANA, I memorized verses, and I was pretty decent at talking the talk. If you ask my brothers or sister, they can probably attest to the fact that I am fairly good at being a goody-goody. It's not that I am perfect or don't willfully sin- it's just I would like to appear that way. I'd rather not have people see the dirt. But whatever the case, it was frustrating I didn't feel I had a testimony. I couldn't remember accepting Jesus into my heart and neither could my parents. I certainly think I believed that Jesus was real and God, and that I quiet probably did belong to Him, but that was it. Most everything else about how I acted seemed to be in response to rules and ideas about what I was supposed to be like as a Christian. Jesus wasn't my loving, life giving, wonderful Savior. He was just a guy who made it so I could go to heaven- and I have to be honest, even that scared me. Eternity? With not change or variation? As I grew older and passed from middle school into high school, a lack of strong foundation caused me to wander even further away. I became the cup which was clean on the outside but dirty on the inside. I had no relationship with Christ, as far as I could tell, and all I ever did was use my brain to come up with answers to anything regarding being a Christian. My heart was not in it.

But Jesus would have me and over the next few years He began to move in me. He let me be introduced to kids my age who had a true love for their Savior because they knew Him personally. And slowly He drew me back to Him. He gave me tastes of what it is like to have a relationship with God and put people in my life pointing me to Him.

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me." -Revelation 3:20

Over the years Jesus has banished dominating fear from my life. He has helped me to feel that I am clean in the sight of God. He is working in me, daily helping me to see just how beautiful and how loving He is. He is teaching me to love Him. Something which I cannot honestly say I have experienced before.

Here is what I can tell you. Following Jesus is not about a bunch of rules. It is about a change of heart. And that change of heart stems from allowing Jesus to work in your heart and to pull you close. You will never be able to change your heart to be perfect or do enough good works to feel righteous in God's eyes. See Jesus, if you accept Him as your Savior, has already made you righteous. What He desires is a relationship- one where we turn to Him. He wants us to lean into Him in trouble, come to Him with fears, and tell Him about our dreams. It isn't because He doesn't already know everything about us. He does. But He wants a relationship with us. We will never be able to truly follow Him if we don't have a relationship with Jesus. And we won't be able to fully enjoy the freedom, from sin and fear, which He has given us. It is not because I have become more zealous about following God's rules that I can  enjoy church. It's because I get to go worship and learn more about Jesus.

 Jesus really is better than anything else. The happiness and joy which you can experience in His presence is worth so much more than what you are pursuing instead. I feel I am really just a baby when it comes to my knowledge and experience of a personal relationship with Jesus, but it is real, it is beautiful, and it is freeing. So if you are walking the fence as a Christian, doing everything else and leaving out Jesus, know there is more out there. You really can have a relationship with the God of the universe. He wants you. And a relationship with Jesus is the real deal.