Friday, April 29, 2011

Friendly Friday: Sober Julie

Today's Friendly Friday comes from a new Twitter friend of mine: Julie from Sober Julie Doing Life. Julie's a witty gal who has come through alcohol addiction to find God on the other side. This chick's been through a lot and is stronger for it. That's pretty awesome! She's also Canadian.

And because I love her, I'll withhold all Canadian jokes. You're welcome, Julie.

Read her post here, and then head over to Sober Julie Doing Life and show her some love over there. And don't forget to follow her on Twitter!

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Lately I’ve been having long phone calls with my sister—real, deep conversations where time slips by. Perhaps that's normal for some sisters, but this is just a reflection of how far I've come in my journey.

My sister and I have always loved one another but were worlds apart in our behavior. I lived a fast lifestyle and—to put it simply—she didn’t. I always wanted a closer relationship but had no idea how to do the work.

I had the opportunity during our conversation to talk about something that wasn't easy for me: I’ve realized that it's uncomfortable for me to know that people had been praying for me and talking about my addiction before I sought help.

I know how illogical this is. I appreciate the love and caring that was the motivation for these conversations and prayers. I speak openly about how God and his peeps were working on my program before I was. But still there's this feeling of shame. That deep, dark sinking feeling that something bad is about to happen. It's a lesser version of the shame that I felt during the days of my drinking career, but it's still there.

Through speaking with my sister, I realized I had work to do. She was awesome about it, by the way.

I will now be looking at this character defect, one that is an issue of privacy but skewed. A normal person would want privacy but be open to help from others. I was not. I honestly thought it disloyal if anyone who was close to me shared my business. There are still remnants of these feelings within me.

I refuse to live my life with shame for my past actions, and—as my sister pointed out to me—God has forgiven me, but perhaps I have not.

Hmm. That's deep and worthy of consideration and investigation.

Guess what? I couldn't find any scripture which quotes "self-forgiveness.” There are plenty dealing with forgiveness in a relationship sense between two parties, but none on the singular level. Interesting.

Maybe self-forgiveness isn't what I'm really having an issue with?

So I am beginning in Romans 3:21-26, I’ll wait while you read it.

What this says to me is that through Jesus I have been granted righteousness! His purity, his perfection, is mine. When I give up my need for perfection and truly give my life to Him, my need for self-reliance shall disappear. I cannot achieve righteousness any other way. Jesus already paid the price for me. Now I live for Him alone.

My freedom from guilt and shame is not now, nor ever will be, dependent upon my forgiving myself.  My freedom is dependent upon my knowledge of and belief in God's deep, deep forgiveness of all my sins.

So now how do I get there? To this place of understanding?

By surrendering to God's grace, which to me means prayer, confession, awareness and listening to God.

By taking action when awareness strikes, I will continue on this journey with God trusting in Him alone to guide me in His purpose for my life.

© Sober Julie, 2011

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Proverbs Throat Punch

Have you ever been doing your daily Bible reading and have it smack you in the face?

That's happened to me quite a bit recently.

The funny thing is that my study has been sporadic at best lately, but every time I do crack the Good Book, it takes me down a peg. Or ten.

I'm reading The Daily Message, which is The Message version of the Bible broken down into daily readings that include a few chapters of a "regular" book and then some of Psalms or Proverbs. It's even dated so you know how far you're behind!

I'm in February. Word.

Today's reading was part of Acts and a few Proverbs. These are a sampling of the Proverbs that got me today (Proverbs 10:17-32):

The road to life is a disciplined life; ignore correction and you're lost for good.


The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words.


The speech of a good person is worth waiting for; the blabber of the wicked is worthless.


The talk of a good person is rich fare for many, but chatterboxes die of an empty heart.


A good person's mouth is a clear fountain of wisdom; a foul mouth is a stagnant swamp.


The speech of a good person clears the air; the words of the wicked pollute it.

Wow.

Perhaps I should stop this post right now. Quit before I say something dumb.

But this points out how important what we say is. Even if you don't think people listen when you talk, rest assured that someone is listening. Even if it's only God. When I write here, I try to make sure I'm not writing things that God would be ashamed of—or my family, or my friends. I'm not always so careful in casual conversation. I need to be. That's where I make most of my mistakes!

How much do you think about what leaves your mouth? Hopefully you think about it more than I do...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Scared to Share

First, watch this video from comedian/magician/atheist Penn Jillette:



You may have seen this video before. I love this video.

And I hate this video.

I love this video because he has such a good attitude and he's so right. And I hate this video because he has such a good attitude and he's so right.

I've been afraid to talk to people about Christ because it's awkward. I have atheist friends who read this blog, and, for some of them, this is the closest they've come to me talking to them about Christ.

Big up to my atheists! Holla!

*ahem*

Clearly, the issue of eternal life is a big one. We worry about our friends and family and what will happen to them if we don't tell them—and what will happen to our relationships with them if we do tell them.

To soften the blow when it comes to talking to others about Christ, here are some notes for my nonbelievers:

  1. We don't get anything if/when you become a Christian. There's not a "You Converted Someone!" certificate, and we don't get twenty jewels in our heavenly crown or whatever. We're not sharing our faith because of any benefit we get. Actually, the risk to us far outweighs the benefit, for the most part. We don't want to alienate you or hurt you. That's lousy. So when a Christian tells you about God and eternal life and Jesus and everything, it's because we care about you. For reals. 
  2. Besides, if we're going to bother to believe something, wouldn't you have more respect for us if we believed it outright and lived it fully? That's how you hold beliefs, right? Part of believing Christianity in full is to talk to other people about it. So if a Christian talks to you about faith, don't be mad. If anything, be flattered that they care enough about you to risk a period of awkwardness, and be glad they're as devoted to their beliefs as you are to yours. Wishy-washy people are lousy.
  3. Most importantly, if you want to reject God, reject God. Don't reject the person telling you about God. Two different things. 


And a note to the believers: When you're with someone you love who isn't a believer, picture that truck coming at them. You don't know how much time you have left—or how much time they have left—to share your faith with them. Odds are they won't punch you in the face or anything. They may smile awkwardly and give you a weird look. They could tell you they're not interested, but at least you know you tried. Or they may want to engage you in an actual discussion about faith, during which you don't get defensive or belligerent. So you may want to practice not being defensive or belligerent. You know, in case that's something you do. And don't be afraid to say the wrong thing. God's got it under control. He's planting seeds and moving in ways you can't even understand. Nothing is more important to him than having all of his creations back in his arms. And you can't mess that up, either.

Above all, we need to not be afraid to have discussions about faith. Christianity holds its own—God has made sure of that. There's historical and archaeological proof that the things in the Bible are true. You don't have to defend Christianity or the Bible. You just have to talk to someone about it—share your personal experiences and give them the basic tools they need to find their way to God.

For the record, I'm not great at this. In fact, I'm terrified of it. I kind of hope posting about it will either give me more confidence about sharing my faith or more fear about what will happen to my friends and family if I don't share my faith.

Have you shared your faith with a loved one? How'd you do it? And how'd it go?

Monday, April 25, 2011

My Big Fat Greek Easter

"There are two kinds of people: Greeks, and everyone else who wish they was Greek."

I'm Greek. Can't you tell?



OK, so I'm no raven-haired Grecian goddess. I've got more of a Scots-Irish look about me. But, believe it or not, I'm Greek!

Something you may not know about Greeks is that Easter is a huge holiday. Easter is jam-packed with Greek awesomeness. There's the food, like the Easter lamb (which we had) to represent the Lamb of God, and the koulourakia and dolmades (which we didn't—I can only push my husband's non-Greek family so far). We announce, "Christos Anesti!" ("Christ is Risen!") to which people reply, "Alithos Anesti!" ("Truly, He Has Risen!"). And there's always—always—family. Lots and lots of people celebrating Christ's resurrection.

Honestly, I can't think of a lot of Greek Christmas traditions my family did. Easter was the Big Deal. Easter was Christmas and the Superbowl and then some.

And shouldn't it be? I mean, I'm glad Jesus was born and all, but it was really his death and resurrection that makes all the difference. Easter should be the biggest holiday of the year. It's the reason we have eternal life! It's the reason Jesus came here! It's the most important event in the history of humanity!

Do you make Easter as big a deal as it should be? Does your year revolve around the importance of Easter or the excitement of Christmas? Not that I'm trying to pit these two holidays against one another, but sometimes it seems like our culture pushes us toward Christmas in so many ways.

But no one pushes the Greeks around. They're sticking squarely with Easter. Smart bunch, those Greeks. You know, they discovered philosophy. Medicine. Democracy. Geometry. Pizza.

Yes, even pizza. You're welcome.

So—take a cue from my Greeks: How would your life change if you lived every day in response to the resurrection? What if Easter took the top spot in your year? Not the bunnies, not the eggs, not the candy—the resurrection of your Lord and Savior?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

A few weeks ago, I saw this bumper sticker:
Clearly, it was displayed by someone who doesn't understand the nature of Jesus' death.

Jesus chose to die. For us. For me. For you. He could have avoided his punishment—punishment for a crime of which he was not guilty. But he chose to give up his life so that we could return to our Creator. He was separated from his Father so we could be reunited with him. We all have the opportunity to spend eternity with God.

All of us. Every single one of us. God does not want anyone to perish but all to come to repentance.

We just have to accept what Jesus did on our behalf—the price he paid for our lives. He exchanged a sinless life for our sin-filled lives. He exchanged his seat in Heaven for pain and death. He came into our world being heralded and showered with gifts. He left this world being torture and showered with ridicule.

I've always disliked the name Good Friday. Such an awful crime was committed on this day, it should be called Horrible Friday. But such an incredible miracle happened that it should be called Amazing Friday.

Either way, "good" just isn't good enough.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lousy Thursday

I always refer to the day before Good Friday as Lousy Thursday. No, it's not the same thing as Maundy Thursday.

Lousy Thursday is the day my husband dumped me.

Brandon and I met in a Sunday morning small group at church in Akron. After our first conversation, I called my dad and said, "Dad, I met the guy I'm going to marry." He said, "We'll see about that, Rachel Anne."

We will, indeed.

I pursued Brandon for six months or so while he was completely uninterested in me. I got the "just friends" speech and everything. He was pursuing another girl, but it just never seemed to work out for the two of them. Brandon and I kind of became best friends as he spilled his guts to me over this girl.

What I recall from Lent that year was how I poured my heart into my prayer journal. I don't think I've ever been so dedicated to prayer as I was during that Lenten period. I prayed—over and over again---that God would either take away the feelings I had for Brandon or please let him love me. Either way, I just wanted him to be happy and what was best for both of us. I just wanted God to move it either way so I didn't feel so heartbroken all the time.

I wrote in that prayer journal every day. I prayed those prayers until I ran out of paper.

Then a few weeks before Easter, that girl (who became my friend and is now married to a wonderful man) gave him the ol' heave-ho. It never got serious or anything—they really only had a few dates. So after a few weeks, he finally decided to date me. I was overjoyed! I was ecstatic!

I was dumped in less than a week!

You have to understand that when we started dating, we hadn't so much as sat on the same couch together because I was so hesitant to push the envelope with the man of my dreams. All of a sudden we were crazy lovey-dovey and it was—weird. So I can't say I blame him for what happened next.

The evening before Good Friday, we went for coffee. I remember there was some polka band playing at our coffee shop. I wish I could tell you I was remembering that wrong. B and I decided to go for a walk, and he told me, "I guess I didn't like you the way I thought I liked you."

The sound of my heart breaking had to have been audible.

Lousy Thursday.

We decided to keep our plans for the next day, Good Friday, in the best interest of our friendship. It involved going to East Cleveland to the art museum and out to eat. So we went.

And, to this day, my husband will say it's the best date we've ever had. And we weren't even dating. Didn't even hold hands.

Until we got back to my house. We sat in the driveway and talked for almost two hours. We held hands after a while. He told me he couldn't picture his life without me, and that was scary. He told me that I'd be the first person after college that he could see seriously dating, and when you date people after college, you might marry them. Also scary. He wasn't sure he was ready for that.

We ended our friendship on Easter Sunday after I had him over for a lamb dinner (that I prepared just for us). We didn't talk for two weeks after that because it was too painful for me to try to be his friend. We didn't try dating again for a couple of months—May? June? Somewhere in there. But when we did, it was perfect. It was natural.

We were engaged that September.



We were married the following May.




And he's still the man of my dreams. It's clear God crafted us specifically for one another. He knew just what each of us needed and wanted in a partner.




Sometimes stuff in our lives hurts more than we can possibly comprehend. Whether it's heartbreak or illness or losing someone (which can happen in a lot of ways), life is full of junk we'd rather skip. Pain we'd rather not have to go through. And the Sunday school answer is, "Well, God has a plan." Sometimes we don't like the Sunday school answer. It feels trite and awful.

But you know what? Sometimes I just need the Sunday school answer. I need to believe God has a plan, or I don't know how else I'd get through things. He's shown me on more than one occasion how he answers prayers in his own time but in my best interest. Even when stuff hurts, even when I can't see for years and years how he plans to use the pain in my life, I know he's working behind the scenes, doing more than I can possibly think or imagine.

Who knows? Maybe I had that devoted patience and that heartbreak because someone reading this blog seven years after the fact needs to know that God is listening and working and caring even when he feels a million miles away. I mean, he couldn't possibly understand the pain you're feeling or the things you're going through.

Even though he watched his son die a horrible, violent death on a cross. No, God couldn't possibly understand pain.

He has feelings. Sometimes we forget that. We were made in his image and we have feelings, so God does, too. He feels pain. He feels loss. And we can't forget that he has a plan. Trust that. Jeremiah 29:11-13 says:

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' says the Lord. 'Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.'"

People remember the first part of those verses, but not the second. Yes, God has a plan. But when you're scared or unsure, you need to go to him—pray to him. He will listen. If you go looking for God, you'll find him. He never moves away from us—it's always us moving away from him.

What plans do you need to trust God with today? What heartbreak will you allow him to work on?

He can handle it, I assure you.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

You Don't Have to Listen to Me

I would like to start this post off with:


A Short Play by Rachel

"The Impala"

Scene: RACHEL has been working as a temp in the staff office of a hospital for several months now. Her coworker, HAIRCUT (so named because her bowl haircut is the only distinguishing feature RACHEL can recall about the woman), stops typing and begins a discussion.

HAIRCUT:   I've been looking at new cars, you know.

RACHEL:     (turning to HAIRCUT, interested) Wow, really? Cool! Are we talking new new or new-to-you new?

HAIRCUT:   New new. I'm thinking of getting one of those new Chevy Impalas.

RACHEL:     Really? What color?

HAIRCUT:   A brown one.

RACHEL:     Is the Impala the one with the round tail lights?

HAIRCUT:   Yep!

RACHEL:    (slightly disappointed in the realization that she was picturing another car) Oh.

HAIRCUT:   What?

RACHEL:    I don't really like those. The back ends look really weird.

HAIRCUT:  (angry and offended) Well, it's a good thing you won't be driving it, then! I like them!

HAIRCUT immediately turns to her computer and away from RACHEL, indicating that the end of this awful conversation has arrived.

END SCENE.

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I feel that this happens to me a lot. It's just an opinion. No need to get cranky. You can take it or leave it. You don't have to listen to me. I mean, Haircut and I could have gone on to have a philosophical discussion about car rear-ends. We could have laughed about the Oldsmobile Aurora's rear, and I could have made a self-deprecating comment about how it looks like me wearing stretch pants: wide and saggy. That's much worse than the beady-eyed tail lights of the Impala. Hilarity would have ensued instead of anger and resentment.

Seriously. She was mad at me for the rest of the time I temped there—three more months. And when she bought her Impala, she announced to me that she'd bought "that ugly car you hate so much."

Really? Be cool, yo.

The world is full of opinions. There are opinions, and there is Truth. The back end of a car looking funny? Opinion. God? Truth. Should you pray and read your Bible? The Truth is yes. Rachel's suggestions on how to work it into your schedule? Opinion.

Helpful, but still an opinion.

There are things worth getting upset over, and there are things that just aren't worth a fight—in fact, things that are downright silly to get upset about. Like the Impala.

How do you deal with the opinions of others? Do you find yourself getting more irritated than necessary?

What's your opinion? I won't get mad. Promise.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Punching Your Timecard

Have you ever thought about people who make "deathbed conversions?" People who are dying and, with their very last breath, genuinely give their lives to Christ.

Doesn't seem fair sometimes, does it?

Here we are, trying to live Christiany lives and be all Christ-like, while they get to live like hellions and still get into Heaven under the gun! It's so not fair!

Yeah, that's not true. It's totally fair.

Go read Matthew 20:1-16. I'll wait.

This passage is fascinating. All the workers, no matter how long or how short they worked, received a denarius. That's what they were promised, and that's what they got. Even though everyone got what they were promised, the ones who worked longer were jealous and angry. Shouldn't they have more? They did more work!

This whole eternal life thing is kind of like that. When we give our lives to Christ, that's the reward. That's the promise. We're all promised the same thing. We don't get a note that says, "OK, Rachel. You've clocked a lot of hours. Since you gave your life to me when you were ten, you're going to get two eternal lives. Betsy over here was 65 when she gave me her life, so she only gets the one. She's a less good and faithful servant than you, Rachel."

Yeah, that doesn't even make sense.

There's just the one reward. And waiting until the last minute comes with its own set of troubles:
  1. You don't know when your dying breath will be. You could be living your life like a crazy person and thinking to yourself, "Aw, I'll give my life to Christ when I'm done having fun." But you could die before that happens. Not all of us will have the time afforded by a long, slow illness. Some of us will have quick, sudden deaths that don't afford us the time to make things right with our Creator. You're gambling with your soul on that one.
  2. I've gone through some pretty rough patches in my day. There was a time I walked away from my faith in my early 20s—still saying I was a Christian but not resembling that remark in any way. When I finally came back to Christ a few years later, the guilt was crushing. I can't imagine that compounded over a lifetime. The earlier you give your life to Christ, the more freedom you'll feel throughout the course of your life. You'll feel guilty at times, but that's the Holy Spirit showing you when you need to repent. But you've got grace now. The guilt can't crush you when you've got God's abundant grace as a cushion.
Can a death row murderer get into Heaven? Yes. Is it possible Hitler is there? I guess. Doesn't seem fair sometimes, but we have to believe that God is just—the Bible says it like a million times. He doesn't want anyone to perish, but he wants all of us to come to repentance. He loves even the most unlovable among us.

Which is a good thing. I've done some pretty unlovable things in my day. I'm glad we all have a shot at Heaven—and I'm glad he wants all of us there.

Have you ever been angry with people who have found Jesus later in life?

Indianapolis Bloggers!

So there's this blog ring for Indianapolis bloggers, and I'm just trying to make sure I'm included. That's all this post is! If you're an Indianapolis blogger and you're interested in being on the list, just go to http://indianapolisblogs.blogspot.com!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friendly Friday: Caroline Flory

Caroline Flory is a swell chick I met via Twitter. Again, I think I stalked her because she was going to the Proverbs 31 She Speaks Conference (which is almost full, by the way!).

This hashtag stalking works. No joke.

Caroline is always an inspiring gal whose writing, frankly, makes me look like I don't know what I'm doing. She's übergodly, and I appreciate her insight. Check her out over at her blog, Under God's Mighty Hand, or follow her on Twitter! Either way, you'll find yourself refreshed in God.

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I seek affirmation.

Is it because I’m a “people pleaser?” Or because I so regularly participate in crumbling self-deprecation that I need someone else to build me up? Or because, as C.S. Lewis says, “When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him.”

I humbly hope it’s that one.

My heart – fully and deeply – lives, acts, and writes for God. To praise Him, bring Him honor, seek Him, and spread His name. I truly desire serving Him in these ways first and foremost.

But, then I still want affirmation. Sometimes I long for validation from the world, especially when tackling some new adventure or in a big project, like teaching or writing. Messages in the Word help me refocus on forgetting the world’s concerns. Yet, I still feel that other believers can provide godly affirmation, too. We can train and rebuke each other to better our walks with Christ. We can encourage and build each other up, strengthening our faith and boosting action on that faith.

So sometimes I’m still seeking someone to say, “Yes, these words and deeds of yours help, heal, encourage, point to Him.” But I feel guilty for wanting that confirmation.

Why do I seek validation from someone else when all I truly need are God’s true promises and His everlasting love? God’s word says:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (I Peter 2: 9-10, emphasis added).

We are chosen, by God! He calls us to live for Him, accept His love and grace, and trusts us to witness this love to others. Those truths seem quite affirming to me!

So, what are we to do if we find ourselves seeking worldly affirmation? I remind myself that the things of this world will fade away, but God’s grace and love are everlasting. We are given new life “…into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Peter 1:4).

This holy sanctification sets us apart from the world by God. Being chosen to humbly serve Him signifies God’s affirmation of us. This affirmation does not rank us so highly that we exclude His love from others, but rather we are used as loved vessels to spread His glory to all people without inhibition.

From that realization, Colossians 3:12 instructs us to, “… as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. We desire to live with this kindness, humility, and compassion because He affirms us into this holy calling. When we take fervent hold of this sanction through this calling, our hearts focus on Him. And when we focus on Him in faith, we realize it’s not at all about us. That need for affirmation from the world fades when we only gaze upon God and His everlasting splendor.

© Caroline Flory, 2011

Thank you, Rachel, for hosting these words on your blog, and for consistently sharing your honest heart with us. I’m honored to get to you know you, and am excited to meet you this year at She Speaks!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lenten Lowdown

As some of you may recall, my husband and I have been observing Lent by taking on a Daniel Fast.

Go ahead. Follow the link. Check out all the things we can't eat. Then come back and continue the post with a renewed sense of pity.

Actually, it hasn't been that bad. Lent is almost over, and we're quite used to our diet now. At the start, I really craved sugar (since I'd kind of become a sugar addict in the months leading up to Lent). I started craving the dairy about two weeks ago. I nearly knocked my son down to take his grilled cheese sandwich one day. But I'm over it. I never really missed the meat or the refined flours and such. It's just tricky finding things to eat because of the latter. Going out to eat or eating at the homes of friends and family has been tough, as well. Fortunately, our friends and family have been kind and accommodating. I even got my in-laws to eat curry. Victory!

But what has struck me during this season is how—well, not connected to God I feel. I expected to start this fast and suddenly have visions and revelations! I would be God's right-hand gal by the end of it! I'd have to rename this blog "Christian of the Year: Awesome Musings from an Awesome Christian!"

Eh. Not so much.

Clearly, God and I are on speaking terms. Enough for him to tell me not to watch Angel. I guess I just expected all of it to feel different. For me to feel different.

I've always struggled with food. I have an addictive personality, and food is the addiction. I've been on all kinds of diets—both sensible and fad—and failed. Miserably. I cheat constantly. I end up gaining back the weight I lost, if I even lost anything, and feeling terrible inside and out.

However.

I've lost 15 pounds since Lent started (so about a month). And my already-skinny husband can't tighten his belt enough to keep his pants from falling down. Also, I feel so much better. My skin is great and super hydrated from all the water I've been drinking (even that pesky wrinkle in the middle of my forehead is gone. Gone!). I feel like I look younger, especially since I felt like I was looking super old before the fast. My pancreas and other digestive problems I've had for years have not bothered me once. Not once!

Surprisingly, I have no problem avoiding foods that don't line up with the fast. I'll admit that I cheated the other day: I had a piece of onion and poppyseed Matzo! It wasn't whole grain! I knew that when I ate it! And it's the only time I've cheated!

Matzo. Really. Of all the things I could have cheated with.

There are two reasons I've been able to stick to this super restrictive diet:
  1. I'm doing this for the Lord, not for my own selfish reasons. I didn't set out to lose weight; it's just a pleasant side effect. Somehow knowing that I set out to do this as a spiritual thing makes me want to stick with it more. I think that God has totally been helping me with it, as well. He has to be. 
  2. My husband's in it with me. We're doing this together. When I have to order tofu, he has to order tofu. 
So, what has this taught me?
  1. Do everything like you're doing it for the Lord. There's even a verse about that. Colossians 20:23-24. It's really about manual labor for someone else, but it totally applies to the rest of your life, as well. Working for God and giving him the glory is super cool.
  2. Be in community with others. It's so much easier to keep up with things—your Christian walk, especially. Trying to do it on your own wears you out and makes you liable to "cheat." If you don't have someone in your life holding you accountable, get one. 
I haven't been interacting with God the way I thought I would during this season, but it doesn't mean he's not teaching me anything. Even when you feel far removed from God, he hasn't moved. He's still right there, growing you and teaching you. He's cool like that.

I actually think I'll try to keep up with the concept of the Daniel Fast as much as I can after Lent is over, maybe adding some meat and dairy back in moderation. I can do without the sugar. For reals. Feeling this good is totally worth having an empty Easter basket. After all, it's really about the empty tomb, isn't it? My Easter basket can stand as a metaphor for the empty tomb and a new life.

How has your Lent been going?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sermon Smackdown: Colonial Style

I like old books. I was an English major, so I was forced to read a good many old books. Some were Beowulf old, some were just Emerson and Thoreau old. Lots in between. I've never been much for modern literature, mostly because I just don't know what to read after 1900.

I was watching this PBS series a few months ago called God in America. It was fascinating. It talked about a man named George Whitefield, a Great Awakening minister who preached around the colonies in the mid-1700s. They recited parts of his sermons, and they sounded really interesting. So, naturally, I got the book. Sermons of George Whitefield. It's a collection of almost 30 sermons on various topics, all written somewhere between 1736-1770.

Also, I'm a nerd for all things Colonial American. I'm in the DAR, for heaven's sake!

Still, I find these sermons fascinating. And quite modern in tone and content. The one that really struck me is entitled, "Directions: How to Hear Sermons."

My first thought: How to hear sermons? I need directions on listening? Like I'm in preschool? Thanks, George Whitefield, for undermining my intelligence.

What it actually says is how to pray for your pastor, how to pray for your heart to be open to the message and what God wants you to hear, and also to listen to whatever preacher is up in front of you and don't bolt when you get to the doors of the church and you realize your favorite pastor isn't speaking.

What what?

Our church has, like, five speaking pastors. We have one main one, Gary, who is a phenomenal preacher and the one who does most of the talking. Then we have four others who rotate around when Gary—heaven forbid—takes a vacation or goes to speak at a conference. While it takes a few listens to get used to the other pastors, they all have their strong points. One's a history buff. One is super deep and intellectual. One is modern and philosophical. They're all interesting to listen to, and I always get something out of their sermons.

But I know there are people who don't show up the Sundays Gary is gone. There was a time when I was tempted to do the same! But, you know, now I'm super mature and everything.

*insert eye roll here*

So, this begs the question: Are they showing up to hear God or to hear Gary? Who are they really following?

This is what George Whitefield has to say on the subject. Prepare for a smackdown:

     A third direction, Not to entertain any the least prejudice against the minister. 
     For could a preacher speak with the tongue of men and angels, if his audience was prejudiced against him, he would be as sounding brass, or tinkling cymbal. [...]
     Take heed therefore, my brethren, and beware of entertaining any dislike against those whom the Holy Ghost has made overseers over you. Consider that the clergy are men of like passions with yourselves; and though we should even hear a person teaching others to do what he has not learned himself, yet that is no sufficient reason for rejecting his doctrine, for ministers speak not in their own, but Christs, name. And we know who commanded the people to do whatsoever the scribes and Pharisees should say unto them, though they said but did not.

So God has put him in that position and he's got something useful to say. Wait! There's more!

     But, fourth, as you ought not to be prejudiced against, so you should be careful not to depend too much on, a preacher, or think more highly of him than you ought to think. For thought this be an extreme that people seldom run into, yet preferring one teacher in apposition to another has often been of ill consequence to the church of God. [...]
     Not to mention that popularity and applause cannot be but exceedingly dangerous, even to a rightly informed mind; and must necessarily fill any thinking man with a holy jealousy, lest he should take that honor to himself, which is due only to God, who alone qualifies him for his ministerial labors, and from whom alone every good and perfect gift comes.

Even pastors aren't immune to the pride that comes with accolades. I'm sure it's tough to keep your ego down when thousands of people are showing up every week to listen to you talk about God. Adoring "fans" probably don't help the matter. Fawn over God and what he's doing through your pastor, not the pastor himself.

This sermon is something else. Here's a full transcript of the sermon, if you want to read a little more. Pray for your pastor, whomever it is that week. Pray that he would speak the Word of God and that your heart would be open to it. Don't put your pastor above God. He's God's mouthpiece—a prophet—not a replacement for God. That's how people get disappointed in their clergy, honestly. If you put them up on a pedestal next to God, you'll be very disappointed when they turn out to be human.

And go to church. No matter who's speaking. Just prepare your heart to receive God and you won't be disappointed.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Convicted!

No, my irrational fear of wrongful imprisonment has not come to fruition. Not that kind of convicted.

We have a Roku player in our home. A Roku player allows us to stream audio and video content from various internet locations, including Netflix, Crackle, Amazon on Demand, Pandora, etc.

I love it.

It's what we have instead of cable. There's always something on I want to watch—movies, TV shows. As I've probably mentioned before, I'm a big Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. I've seen every episode because all the seasons are streaming on Netflix, and I recently watched the latter seasons on the Roku (whole seasons which I somehow missed originally?). Lately, I've started watching the show Angel, which is a spin-off of Buffy. Same evil creatures, same heroic Scooby-type squad. Took me a while to get into it, but now I'm on season three and hooked.

The other day while I was watching it, this little voice in the back of my head said, "Stop watching Angel."

What what? Stop watching Angel? For reals? I assumed I misheard it and continued watching.

The next day, the little voice popped up again. "Rachel, seriously. Stop watching Angel."

Again, I ignored it. The voice didn't pop up while I was working on the last few seasons of Buffy. Why would it have a problem with Angel? Nope.

This voice kept popping up and bugging me. Well, we'll say it was nudging me. Not without cause—I'd recently had some terribly frightening Angel-related dreams. That in itself should have scared me out of watching the show. The dreams were that bad. Then at our small group on Friday, we were studying John 3, and John 3:19-21 says:

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.

Interesting. It doesn't say, "It's totally acceptable to hang onto some darkness and some light. Also, it's totally OK to ignore God. No big deal."

We started talking about ways we still dip our toes into darkness when we're supposed to be living in the light—and the things we don't want to live out in the light in front of other followers. So I opened my big mouth to my small group and said, "I think God wants me to stop watching Angel. But I don't want to!" At first, one of my friends—who is also a big Buffy and Angel fan—said, "No! You can't! I want you to watch the whole thing so we can talk about it!"

That had crossed my mind, actually. I thought, "Well, I only have two and a half seasons to go. Once I'm done, I won't need to watch them again. I just want to see what happens!"

But that's not what God said. He said, "Stop watching Angel." Not, "OK, finish the series and then stop watching Angel."

Then my friend realized that she didn't want to advise me to disobey God, naturally, so she said, "Yeah, you've got to stop watching. Darn it!"

Darn it, indeed.

This isn't a commentary on Angel being darkness—although, you know, demons and such aren't exactly light viewing. There's nothing inherently wrong with watching Angel. The problem here is obedience. I heard God's voice, and I refused to listen. I wanted to do what I wanted to do!

Kind of a theme in my life.

You're either in darkness or in light. You're either listening to God or you're not. You can't say you're a follower of God and then ignore him. When you feel that tugging at your heart, you've got to listen. He's got his reasons. Even when I really want to know what happens to Angel because I hear he turns into Angelus for a while and that's scary and how does he change and I really want to see how they deal with Wolfram and Hart and if Darla comes back and what happens with her and...and...

I'm done. If nothing else, I can just go read the synopsis somewhere and figure out what happens without having to watch it. And now that I've made the decision, I feel a lot of peace. Because I listened.

What's God been asking you to do, and why have you been ignoring him?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Friendly Friday: Julie Moore

Today's Friendly Friday post is from a fabulous lady by the name of Julie Moore.

You know, in case you didn't get that from the title.

She blogs over at JulieMooreOnLife. She's super godly and super insightful—the kind of insightful I aim for right before I careen into the absurd. She's a life coach and an author, to boot. And today's post is such a coincidence, as I was just pondering the lyrics to this song the other day. Maybe it's a Godincidence!

Make sure you go check her out when you leave here. She'll seriously make your day.


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Thank you Rachel for allowing me the opportunity to share with your friends—soon to become my friends, too, I hope. You are such a blessing to me as I read your words, words that make me think and examine myself in order that I can grow closer to my God.


Stairway to Heaven

I was thinking about the song "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin yesterday. So I pulled up the words on Google and read back over them. They really didn’t make much sense to me except when he said, “and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.” It makes me think of the times in my life that I thought I could buy my way on up that stairway.

For years into my Christian life I followed the Savior pretty steady by my standards. I made my way up the stairway just fine without much looking back. I put one foot in front of the other and marched up each step by living according to the rules, having my children in church every Sunday, living as the submissive wife (well, outwardly), and serving in the capacity anyone asked me to at the church. Personal time with the Lord was hard to come by, but I was “doing” everything I supposed to be doing wasn’t I? I just kept dragging myself up that stairway so I could hear the words “Well done good and faithful servant.” Matthew 25:23

Eventually there came that time when I could no longer climb those stairs and I stumbled and fell to the bottom. As I lay there crumpled up in a heap, I felt completely defeated. Now I would not hear those words I had so longed to hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” Where were all those “rules”, “obligations”, and “works” now that I needed them most?

The truth is they were dead—they had always been dead, I just didn’t know it. For some reason salvation for me included working to make God proud of me, working to keep up appearances for other Christians, and striving to serve and prove my love for God. But after lying in a pit of deep despair and sin for a while, I finally gave up and came to the end of myself.

Flash forward to a new day—today! What have I learned about that "Stairway to Heaven?" There’s not a stairway to heaven. There’s no drudgery, working, striving, pleasing to get to the top to hear those words I so want to hear. Amazingly enough, the Father is pleased with me just as I am because, when I became His child, He created me new, complete, whole, beautiful, and precious in His sight. God’s Holy Spirit lives in me giving me a “want to” to want to be like Jesus. I don’t have to work at it to make it happen. However, I do have to rest in Him and let it happen. Surrendering to be a Spirit-controlled woman is the best thing that I’ve ever done. It has freed me to be the woman of God I was created to be. I can take off the masks that I’ve been hiding behind for so many years, and when I listen to the Spirit, I naturally—or should I say supernaturally—do what He’s calling me to do. My love for Him is the motivation for serving Him now, and, oh, how I love Him because He first loved me. (1 John 4:9)

© Julie Moore, 2011

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Balancing Act

It seems like I can't be good at everything all at once.

I'm not talking about my madd triple threat skillz. Those are solid. Holla!

This is more about my different roles in life. Christian. Wife. Mom. Other. Four categories (one hilariously vague), and I can't balance all of them effectively.

Right now, I am kicking butt at the household stuff. Stuff I typically ignore for long periods of time. I'm doing laundry daily (and putting it away, thankyouverymuch). I cleaned out my son's closet the other day because it was bugging me. If I didn't know any better, I'd think I was pregnant and nesting.

However, when I was pregnant with my son, I did no nesting. For reals. So there goes that theory.

But even though I'm a not-so-desperate housewife right now, my faith feels junky. I'm not spending enough time with God or enough time in the Word. It feels terrible, but I can't seem to get it going. 

What is up

So instead of giving advice, I need advice. What do you do when you find yourself in this kind of season? How do get things back into balance? Help!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Study Skills 101: Context

I was reading an excerpt from a column this morning about Muslims and Christians, and how Christians think the Quran is full of violence. I thought it was interesting, given yesterday's post. Actually, the excerpt was called "The Bible's endorsement of violence." Eye-catching title, isn't it? The author mentioned Matthew 10:34, where Jesus says, "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."

And that's it. That's the only part of that section he quoted. Just looking for something about a sword.

The author then said, "Scholars from both faiths can provide context that helps explain these troubling quotes from a more primitive time. But why is Islam alone held responsible for the violence in its holy book?"

*ahem*

Jesus wasn't talking about actual violence in that verse, dude.

Context is everything.

You can pull any verse out of anywhere and make it sound awful. You can pull a sentence out of any book you read and try to make it say what you want it to say. The difference with the Bible is that it's saying what God wants it to say. You have to really look at the context. Always.

FACT: If you're studying the Bible without considering context, you're not studying the Bible.

What about that particular verse, Matthew 10:34? If you look at the verses before and after it (Matthew 10:32-39), you'll see that the sword is not a sword of violence or death—it's a sword of division. He's explaining that when we follow Christ, it'll cause divisions in our lives. Our families or friends may not believe that way we do. We have to be willing to sacrifice those relationships for our walk with Jesus.

When you see a single line from the Bible anywhere, whether it's in print somewhere or your pastor pulls a single verse into his sermon to prove a point (yes, even some pastors ignore context to make a point), be wary. Go read around that verse. Look for the context. Find out what God is trying to say, not the human feeding it to you.

And, trust me, you don't have to be a theologian or Bible scholar to study the Bible effectively. It's meant for every follower of God to understand.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Show Me

The world has lots of Christians. For some reason, many of them believe different things. The Rapture. Purgatory. Papal edict. Hating non-Christians. There are a ton of varying ideas and ideologies, some more dangerous than others.

Two words: show me.

Book, chapter, verse. Show me where those things are in the Bible. Without taking the verses out of context. Without putting human intentions on it.

A recent event has me a little upset. Last month, a pastor in Florida burned a copy of the Quran. News travels slowly, it seems, but when word got to Afghanistan last week, there was a violent protest at the United Nations complex. I've heard varying reports on how many died over the weekend—some reports say 20, some say 22.

That's a lot of people.

Did those people know Christ? They sure don't have a chance to now.

Where in the Bible does it say that God wants us to be hateful? Where does it say it's OK for us to give up the lives of others for our beliefs (especially the non-Biblical ones)? The Bible says that God wishes that none would perish and all would come to repentance. He wanted those twenty people in his arms.

Is there a "No Muslims" clause somewhere in the Bible? What about a "No Gays" clause? Because those two groups seem to get a lot of unwarranted hate from Christians.

Show me where God thinks that's OK. Because I'm pretty sure Jesus said the two greatest commandments are, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength," and, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

I don't see any exceptions printed. Did I miss some footnotes? Nope. Don't think I did.

Everyone has the chance to be saved. We need to show radical love, not radical hate. There's no way people are going to follow Christ if his followers are jerks. If you think it's fine to hate this group or that, to be mean or cruel or disrespectful to them, or to think they're excluded from God's grace if they ask for it, I have two words for you:

Show. Me.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sermon Smackdown: Love

I feel like I write a lot about love. I wrote about it here. And here. And that's OK because love is important.

But—jeepers. Sunday's sermon smacked me upside the head and asked the question: "Rachel, do you really love?"

We all know those love verses. You probably had them read at your wedding. Or maybe you've heard them at someone else's wedding. You can probably find it in your Bible with your eyes closed. But just in case you're not familiar, read them again:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. (I Corinthians 13:4-6)

We know it, right? Right.

So what my pastor did on Sunday morning was ask us to read it aloud. However, instead of saying "love" or "it," insert your name. You do it:

_______ is patient, _______ is kind. _______ does not envy, _______ does not boast, _______ is not proud. _______ is not rude, _______ is not self-seeking, _______ is not easily angered, _______ keeps no record of wrongs. _______ does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. (I Corinthians 13:4-6)

How does that feel? I kind of felt like a liar. Even from the beginning when I said, "Rachel is patient, Rachel is kind," I didn't believe it. I haven't been patient lately. I'm kind when I feel like it. It just went downhill from there. I can do all those things, but I don't do them consistently. It's kind of Fruits-of-the-Spirity. I'm clearly hit and miss with those, too.

Am I really exemplifying love? Are you really exemplifying love?

How can we get better at this? I know it requires a lot of help from God, who is love and shows it better than any of us ever could. But what can we do to up our game? To not be embarrassed as we read and reread that passage?

I love sermon smackdowns. In that I-don't-really-like-this-but-it's-good-for-me kind of way.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Friendly Friday: My Epic Life & Stories

I'm a bit of a stalker on Twitter. Ever since I decided to go to the Proverbs 31 Ministries She Speaks Conference in July, I've been keeping my eye on the #p31shespeaks Twitter tag. I follow pretty much everyone who uses it so that maybe I'll know someone when I get to North Carolina in July.

Can't say it's not useful. This stalking is how I met Katrina!

She's a real sweetheart and a godly woman who's gone through a lot lately, and she's now a single mother of three. She writes from the heart at My Epic Stories & Writing, and I can't wait to meet her at She Speaks! Read her work here, then pop on over to her blog to leave her some love!


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When asked by Rachel at The Lazy Christian to do a guest post I jumped at the opportunity, not only because I wanted to gain more exposure to my poor little blog located at My Epic Stories & Writing, but because I love her real stories and experiences. If only we all could be as open as Rachel, our Christian walk would probably be one that is more towards the explosive end of a firecracker than the fizzled end of a sparkler.

As a single mother of three young children there are many things I struggle with in my Christian walk. However, the big one is being consistent with whom I am around my children. Countless times throughout the day I find myself being someone I used to be and never want to be again. That person who didn’t care what was said around her children, what her children saw, and how other people around them impacted their growth with Jesus.

I refuse to be that kind of mother.

It’s just not where I want my children led. I am not the perfect mother—or anything remotely close—but I strive each and every day to be the mother God created me to be. As a woman I wear many hats, and I have many different titles from many different people, but “mother” is one of the most important.

Before I was willing to let God in on a daily basis and make Him the first person I ran to in the morning, my days were never successful by any definition of the word. I could never find contentment in anything I did or anyone I was around. Everything seemed so pointless because there was no reason to my days. I don’t want to sound all cliché but this is exactly how it happened:

One day I woke up and the light bulb turned on and it was burning brightly! I knew from that moment forward I needed to make each and every day about Him and for Him. Living the way I saw fit was not getting me anywhere, but by following His will for my life and letting Him lead me in His ministry, I knew that my life would be beneficial to everyone I crossed paths with.

That day was just about a little over a month ago, I have been saved for almost 15 years now, but my life was nothing like a Christian walk. Now thanks to a God who says “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13), I have a promise that all I have to do is open my heart completely and there He’ll be.

AWESOME!

I don’t know of anyone else who is willing to be that dedicated. Even as a mother it’s hard for me to not be selfish some of the time. Yet our God is anything but selfish. He sacrificed so much to give us a life with Him. I don’t know about you, but I will strive each and every day for the rest of my life to make sure I get that life.
My children are growing in church, I am growing in church, and I have met some of the most wonderful Christian friends a girl could ever ask for. Not only have I made relationships that I hope will last for a long time to come, but I have found my calling in life. I have enrolled in writing classes, taken up a passion—writing—that I thought I’d lost, and registered for this year’s She Speaks 2011 Conference to gain some knowledge and skill in the Christian writer’s market.

I don’t think that my life has ever had more purpose to it than it does now, and all because I listened to a Father who never gave up on me.