No Turning Back

We sang one of my favorite worship songs at church this morning.  The chorus alway pierces my soul.  “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back…”  The Lord has been reminding me today the simple truth that He is enough.  Receiving eternal salvation from Him is enough.  There are several times that if I’m honest, I wrestle with feeling like the song should be, “I have decided to follow Jesus…. As long as He blesses me.” But the Truth is that Him saving me is enough.  No matter what else happens, no matter how little I have, or how hard things get, God doesn’t owe me anything, but has already given me everything.

While the Lord was already stirring this simple reminder in me this morning, I was also struck with one glaring difference between everything else and Christianity.  A lot of times our goal is to avoid negative things and pain.  A lot of philosophies emphasis the importance of getting rid of greed etc, but the root is to get rid of the disappointment and pain that we can experience when we don’t have what we want.  We go to great lengths to avoid pain.  And then there is Jesus, who calls His believers to pick up their cross and follow Him.  As Christians, God asks us to go I the very opposite direction of the world.  He doesn’t just warn us that there will be suffering, but He tells us to expect it and ensures us that the choice to follow Him will bring more suffering.  Not that suffering is fun, or that I enjoy it, but there is something surprisingly important in the middle of the junk.  While human nature, philosophies and other belief systems train people to run from pain and fear, Jesus calls His followers to follow Him right into the middle of pain and destruction.  He lives in the midst of our junk and searches to save us while we are trapped in the mud.  He doesn’t wait for us to get out and clean ourselves up.  And this is what He expects and asks His followers to do.  To embrace the messy parts of life, to run into battle knowing that there will be injuries, to purposefully join the battle instead of hiding from it.  What a beautiful contrast!

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Challenge Day 3

Especially as a wife and mom, life can get busy and lonely. I spend a lot of my time and energy worrying about and doing things for my family.  And before I know it, it’s been days since I’ve had a real adult conversation with a friend. With so much transition in our lives since getting married, it’s easy for me to think that the lack of conversation is actually a lack of relationships. I’m not one of those people who easily makes friends, and so I have trained myself to think that I need a good deal of time in a new setting before I really have friends. And with little continuity in our life over the last five years, it only adds to the feeling that the days of busy mommy loneliness. However, the Lord reminded me today how many people He has brought into my life that I genuinely love, enjoy and connect with. It is not something that just happened, but is Him.  He provides everything I need. Not just the logistical and practical needs, but the personal and relational ones. I can’t express how much it means that as I sit here writing this, I keep thinking of more people that fit in this category.  I am overwhelmed with His gentle reminder that He is continually working in my relationships to strengthen the already established and begin more new.

Challenge Day 2

It’s funny because it’s only day 2 into this challenge, and nothing has changed in our lives or situation.  But I feel a world of difference in my attitude and outlook today.  Reflecting over today I almost don’t know where to start or what to focus on, but I can say that the main theme of how God worked in my life today was life.  With every story and example I think about sharing, it all comes down to that.  The Lord encouraged and reminded me today He has, and wants, abundant life for me.  And even on my best days, or during my best years, there is more life to be had.  Isn’t that an amazing thing about Him? We can’t max out the abundant life that He has the power to give us.  With Him, there is no ceiling or limit.  There is more than this.  There is always more than this because He is infinite.  Life in relationship with the living Creator is much different than being a part of a world religion.  It is more than a set of moral guidelines.  It has to be, or we’ve missed it.  Look at the Bible. God is the same now as He was then. His idea of what being in a relationship with him is like hasn’t changed.  He is the same.  I not only could have abundant spiritual life like those in the Bible, I could have more.  Not because I’m awesome or special but because He is and He has no limit.

Challenge Day 1

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  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.
~ James 1:2-8

I’ve been focused on unanswered prayers and questions.  But this verse today was a great reminder that these are opportunities to practice real faith.  I like to have faith in little things, and even occasionally can muster faith for big decisions, but I struggle with the not doubting part.  I know that God is there and I know that He can do something, but I doubt that He wants to.  And so I approach Him a lot with doubt that I will actually receive anything when I go to Him.  And this is what I’ve been focusing on.  However, with this challenge I’m going to turn this perspective upside down.

I need lots of things!  I need answers on what decisions to make and wisdom on how to move forward.  I need encouragement and patience.  I’m thankful that the Lord cares about me enough to create/allow needs in my life so I have to turn to Him.  And when I don’t receive the wisdom I need, He allows me to continue to ask so I can practice asking in faith with no doubting.  He doesn’t want me to give up, but He wants me to increase my faith and decrease my doubt.  Through a season with lots of requests and needs, He is with me and teaching me that He wants to give me the wisdom I need, but more than that, He wants me to believe Him and not doubt.  I can count on Him!

 

Join me in a challenge?

As you have seen, my blogging had come to a screeching halt. My body has been exhausted, and my eyes had become so focused on the circumstances around me that my emotions got the better of me.  And then tonight my four year old son, Elliott, asked me to read him a Bible story and tell him more about Jesus. So as I flipped to the New Testament section of his little Bible, he stopped me.  “No, here.” He said as he returned to the beginning. I chuckled a little to myself because of course to him every time you read a book, you start at the beginning.  And so I read him the creation story.  I think God prompted Elliott to ask for the story more for my sake than his own. Because in the midst of a season where I’ve become so focused on the seemingly disasterous circumstances around me, I was reminded that God is Creator. I’ve felt trapped in life with no way out, waiting for God to force a door open so I could escape this prison He has led me into.  But tonight I was reminded that God’s options are not only the escape routes I’ve seen and planned.  God is Creator. And He can create from nothing. I am not bound to looking at the options I can see because I have a Father who can create new options from nothing. What a welcome reminder and relief! So after catching my breath that I must have been half holding for months now, I faced the simple question, what next? How do I move on from here and not go back to where I was?

I’ve noticed that challenges are trendy right now. Have you? I’ve been intrigued by health challenges and even seen some fashion related ones. The whole pedometer obsession in our culture is encouraged by this idea of a challenge.  I think it’s a successful way to build a new habit because it gives you a sense of accomplishments in the little things along the way.  Plus I’m highly competitive so I am naturally drawn to them.  So instead of a health or beauty challenge, I’m going to create my own spiritual challenge. And I’d love for you to join me. 

To answer my question above, I think my biggest misstep has been focusing on what God isn’t doing instead of what He is.  No wonder I get discouraged!  I believe this is part of why the idea of our testimony is so important- it keeps us and others focused on the right things.  So my challenge is this: let’s start with 7 days. For the next 7 days, in some way (on here, Facebook, in conversation, etc), share what God has recently done or is doing.  Let’s intentionally practice thankfulness while training our eyes to stay focused on the right thing.  And hopefully I’ll build a new habit along the way!

Joshua 14

I was reading the chapter in Joshua about the allotments of the land, and I must admit that I was doing more skimming than reading. And I found something that caught my attention and I had to read it again.  

And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, but my fellow Israelites who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt in fear.  I, however, followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.

                                                                ~Joshua 14: 7, 8

It was such a great reminder.  And there were two things in particular that stuck out to me, that I would like to share with you.

1.  It is impossible to follow the Lord wholeheartedly and entertain fear at the same time.  The other Israelites were well intentioned- they were trying to protect their family from harm.  But the second they chose fear over conviction, they lost.  They should have been far more afraid of God than of man.  I also want to point out that those speaking and encouraging fear were fellow Israelites.  It is a good reminder than just because someone knows God, doesn’t mean that the advice they are giving isn’t based in fear. But more importantly, we need to search ourselves.  If I’m letting fear (of finances, what people think of me, etc) inform my decisions instead of following the Lord wholeheartedly than I’m missing it too.  

2.  Maybe Caleb was able to follow the Lord instead of fear because he personally identified with God, not just corporately.  If you notice, he referred to “the Lord my God.”  God wasn’t just the God of his people, but God was his Personal God too.  Both perspectives are important. If we only identify with God corporately, it’s easy to believe that God will take care of His people as a group, but maybe not you personally.  When I wrestle with this, I wrestle with feeling like God makes decisions based on the ‘greater good’ but inevitably it isn’t good for someone.  I wrestle with feeling like I have to ‘take one for the team’.  But the Bible is clear that this isn’t true. 

On the other side, we can forget that God is also our corporate God. This plays out sometimes by us forgetting that within the body we are all serving the same God and He is for all of us.  I think we especially forget this when there is division and fighting within the body.  But I think sometimes it also plays out by an attitude that God ‘needs me’ or that there isn’t someone else He could use instead of me.

In order for Caleb to follow God wholeheartedly and not give in to fear, he had to know on a deep personal level that his conviction was from the Lord, that God would work out what was best for him and for the Israelites as a whole.  And he had to trust God personally enough to know that this was true. If God wasn’t his God, the fear would have won out.

Anyways, just a couple of my thoughts this morning as God continues to change me.

Joshua 12

I’ve been reflecting today on what I’ve learned so far on this journey through the Old Testament.  And I must admit, that it has been enlightening to see how much my perception of things tends to be different than what the Bible says- despite reading it.  It’s so easy to take what I’ve read and subtly change it to better fit what I want it to say, or something that is easier to fit with the culture around me.  It just encourages me how important it is to be in the Word and keeping it in front of me so I don’t slowly get off course.

As you may know, I’ve read through the wilderness season of the Israelites, and am reading Joshua- the beginning of the Israelites being in the Promised Land.  In my reading today, I read Joshua 12 which gives a recap of the defeated kings thus far.  And this was what encouraged my self reflection today.  If I were to quickly characterize wilderness seasons and seasons of the Promised Land in my own life, it would have gone something like this:
Wilderness: struggle, hardship, fighting to move to the next thing.                  Promised Land: rest, blessing, wealth.
You can even see in my post yesterday about a deep discouragement that I had accepted that the season of wilderness had not ended yet, and that I had not yet moved into a season of Promised Land.  However, when I read Joshua 12 it made it clear to me that my perception- despite currently reading through these passages!- was very different than what was in the Bible.  Man, am I quick to forget these things… I would have made an excellent Israelite!

The biggest and most noticeable correction was that seasons of battles to gain ground was not a main characteristic of getting to the Promised Land, but was instead a huge piece of moving into and gaining the Promised Land.   East of the Jordan there are only 2 listed victories, while Joshua’s time in the Promised Land (thus far) has 31 listed!  The first verse of chapter 13 even starts with mentioning that Joshua had grown old.  So instead of thinking of battles as being the last obstacle to the Promised Land, it seems like from this that the presence of battles is a significant indicator of being IN the Promised Land.

Now, the wilderness was not easy- but the challenges of this stage were personal and corporate training and refining in obedience and faith.  The ground that they traveled and covered was not to be possessed, but was allowing them the time for the lessons that the Lord had for them.  In contrast, the land they traveled in the Promised Land they fought for and possessed it once they moved past it.

The hardship didn’t end when they entered the Promised Land, like I tend to think.  Honestly, I see a much bigger case in the Bible that the battle never ends.