Tag Archives: spirituality

To Polish or Paint

As a newly engaged woman I am constantly obsessing over the sparkly ring on my finger, not because I’m materialistic but because it is a reminder of my fiancé’s love for and commitment to me. While slipping into my flats this morning I noticed how my ring glittered and glistened while my recently polished toenails were already chipped and dull. 

This one observation spurred me to think of and pray for those in my life who are experiencing hardship. We don’t know the reason for specific struggles and suffering, but we can trust that God uses these instances to bring us closer to Him and to polish us. Why does it take struggles and suffering to be polished? Well, like my toenails, if our flaws were simply painted over, we would just be back to our damaged selves right away, but God chooses to scrub off our blemishes and make us shiny and new. We don’t have to return to the dull-in-spirit sinners we were before. 

For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance. – Psalm 66:10-12

When I look back on the valley journey it took to get to this mountaintop joy-filled time of my life, I honestly don’t see how I could have gotten here without the many valleys along the way. In addition, I wouldn’t be the person I am now without those valley, those times of refinement and scrubbing. There were times I felt hopeless, worthless, and ashamed. If God had just painted over my sin instead of washing it away, I couldn’t be the wife and daughter he is making me to be. I might look nice, but I couldn’t love like Christ. 

The biggest lesson learned through suffering is this, His thoughts are higher than my thoughts and His ways are higher than my ways. We will never have all the answers to the “why me?” questions in life, but we aren’t meant to. We are meant to trust God and His process no matter how painful it is because we know He is good all the time…even when we can’t feel it. 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9

Pray for someone who doesn’t have the strength to pray right now and reflect on the good that has come out of the worst in your life. 

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Lawlessness as a Pursuit of Freedom

As a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, I experience first-hand the pursuit of freedom on all sorts of topics from racism to classism. Many feel in bondage by the so-called “men in black”, the people at the top telling the little people what they can and cannot do. This notion of oppression is often true. People are experiencing prejudice in one way or another. Our society rightly celebrates historical figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., that led the revolution against social injustices all in the name of freedom and equality.

While all of this is good and right and just, we’ve somehow lost sight of where freedom ends and selfishness, even lawlessness begins. Perhaps it is that we all don’t agree on the definition of freedom. Some may even venture to say that freedom is a dirty word that only hippies and liberals dare to proclaim. The reason being, freedom is now being translated into no control, no laws, no standards.

Picture this, you are driving your three kids to a soccer game when suddenly your minivan is plowed into by a shiny new sports car. For the sake of this illustration, no one is injured. You go to court to seek justice, but when you get there the defendant says, “I don’t see why what I did was wrong. It felt good.” This is the argument of so many today. Or what if you decide not to pay your taxes? Your argument could be, “I’m not hurting anyone.” Again, I’ve heard this excuse before. Most of us can agree that there is a time and place for laws, rules, standards, but when once applied to us it can be uncomfortable. Honestly, how many times have you gone far over the speed limit, but then that one time you slow down you look at the person speeding by you like they are the criminal? We’ve all done it or something similar.

So if we can all agree that we need laws and standards, and we all agree that it sometimes means we will be uncomfortable, then why do people use the “rules” of Christianity as an excuse not to be Christ-followers? I pondered this for several days and I have come to these conclusions.

1. They have not personally experienced Christ’s love and forgiveness. For me, it was like Pringles, once you pop you can’t stop. Once I experienced it for myself, I was sold. Perhaps those people have experienced or heard only of the manmade religion of Christianity without the joy of knowing him.

2. They have not differentiated their experience with man with their experience with God. Many people decide how big, how strict, how overbearing, or how loving God is by looking at their experience with their earthly parents. They have yet to experience God’s deliverance and forgiveness of others.

3. They are not ready to give up something they know is ungodly. Overcoming vices, habits, even addictions, starts with knowing God will meet you where you are. He does not expect you to overcome these on your own before coming to know Him.

4. They genuinely believe in another god or entity or have some other spiritual belief system. You probably know people of many other faiths, and that’s okay. We are not called to beat them with the Bible, but called to love them and by loving them we reveal the person, the God of Love.

There could be a number of other reasons as well.

The fact is we are living in a world that is increasingly becoming about self, hence the term “selfie”, but in the midst of a self-centered, highly technological world, there also many who are overly aware of the world around us. You can go on YouTube and see video after video of the “news” that actually wasn’t ever aired on the news, someone took it with their personal cell phone. With all this information about injustice at our fingertips, really who are we to trust? Ourselves? Or a God that loves above all else, but also sets “laws” in place to help us avoid injury to the body, soul, and spirit? Which sounds more freeing?

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The Working Dead

It comes to no surprise to me that zombie movies and TV shows have become phenomenally popular in recent years. Look around. People are so busy, the world we live in is starting to look like a zombie apocalypse. Everyone is marching forward as fast as they can, eyes fixed straight ahead, as if the only thing on their mind is the satisfaction they will have when they indulge in flesh. It’s eerily true that so many in our communities are out to indulge in flesh. The only difference is, it’s their own flesh they are out to indulge in, meaning their own selfish desires are what they think brings them satisfaction.

I think the “successful career” is the most prominent selfish desire in the world today. I catch myself in this very same focus more often than I’d like to admit, thinking, ‘Woe, is me. My job is not _____. I don’t get paid ____. My work is so _______.’ It’s likely that you have filled in those blanks plenty of times as well. My friend’s employer sends out daily newsletters, which she shares with me because each one includes a very practical prayer. Today’s fit my attitude perfectly. I got up on the wrong side of the bed, and I was throwing myself an all-out pity party. I open her email and read, “…Expand our perception of the good things that life holds. Decrease our fear of not having enough, being enough, doing enough, growing enough. Amen – Joyce Rupp.” After reading this I quickly wrote my friend back and told her the prayers are always so timely. She wrote me back saying, “Me too. When I read that I breathed out a ‘lil of the sadness I was feeling and let in joy!”

Our success is not determined by the number of zeros on our paycheck or how many ladder rungs we climbed to get to the top. Our success is determined by the amount of compassion, willingness, and hard work we put into the work we do today. Colossians 3 says, “Work hard and cheerfully at all you do, just as though you were working for the Lord…” Would people in your workplace say, “Wow! You are such a cheerful and hardworking person. You show a lot of integrity”? Or would they run the other way knowing you only have complaints or harsh criticisms to share? When is the last time you looked a client/customer/coworker in the eye and smiled genuinely, saying “Good morning”?

Instead of pushing ourselves forward with glassy flesh-craving eyes or eyes that say “I’m drowning and I haven’t slept in 6 days” perhaps we can focus on the real work, which is pleasing our Heavenly Father today. It does matter if we fall short of our employer’s expectations because it is up to them if we stay or go, but when we work for the Lord we earn favor from Him and that will grant us a lot more “success” than a million sleepless nights worrying about a life and career that scripture tells us is really just a vapor that appears and then vanishes. How will you spend your vapor?

You slaves must always obey your earthly masters, not only trying to please them when they are watching you but all the time; obey them willingly because of your love for the Lord and because you want to please him. Work hard and cheerfully at all you do, just as though you were working for the Lord and not merely for your masters, remembering that it is the Lord Christ who is going to pay you, giving you your full portion of all he owns. He is the one you are really working for. And if you don’t do your best for him, he will pay you in a way that you won’t like—for he has no special favorites who can get away with shirking.     – Colossians 3:22-24

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Love is Discipline

Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14:27

In this season we are constantly surrounded by heart-shaped chocolate boxes, pink teddy bears,  roses, and glittering diamond ads. Is love really all about material things? Don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely to get a nice heart-felt gift and a romantic date with the one you love, but it seems like there’s something missing here. Can diamonds and chocolates really make for a golden anniversary-type romance or is that all just for show?

In the Fall of 1941 near Peggs, Oklahoma a couple wed on their 4th date. That couple, Hugh and Ruby, my grandparents, were married just short of 67 years when my grandma passed. I do not remember one time they gave each other a gift that was just for pure enjoyment, certainly never roses. My grandpa did not shower my grandma with diamonds, that’s for sure. You see, love is more about discipline and dedication than about all those expensive gifts.

In Matthew 16 Jesus said to his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” Taking up your cross does not mean carrying a heavy burden. When a prisoner carried their cross they were on their way to be crucified (death penalty); basically a walking dead man. Jesus asks us to lay down our old sinful selves to dedicate our lives to following him. To deny yourself is to have DISCIPLINE to the one you love, Jesus.

Similarly when you are in a romantic relationship, friendship, familial relationship, any relationship founded out of love you must dedicate yourself to it or it will slowly wither. Love is not about a date on the calendar (btw guys it’s this Friday!). It is about a lifetime of phone calls, “I love yous,” hand-holding, pats on the back, family dinners, shared laughter. Love is being disciplined enough to make the time to spend with those special people in your life. There will be storms. That’s guaranteed when you make this kind of investment, but the benefits of true love far outweigh the struggles.

So you may not have that one person in your life, but you have the everlasting, never-ending, crazy-love God that can’t get enough of you. He looks down on you in your discipline of love and he gasps with excitement at your efforts to reciprocate His love.

Inside Out

Sometimes I look at someone I’ve seen every weekday for years, and for no particular reason they look like they’ve had a major makeover. I can’t put my finger on what is different about them; same haircut, same size, same lipstick even, but something is NOT the same. I might even ask them, “Did you do something different with your hair?” Or say, “That color looks great on you!” But what it really comes down to is that each of the two of us has the Holy Spirit living in us, we are so connected in that moment that the other person looks as bright as the sun, as graceful as a dove, and as joyful as the angels. It’s like they have completely come alive.

Sara in Uganda 2014

Sara in Uganda 2014

In the last few weeks I have had the privilege of praying for my friend Sara who traveled to Uganda with Children of Grace. I have seen her happy before. We’ve had many laughs together, but the joy I see in her pictures is like the best makeover you could give someone. No amount of cosmetics, hair products, and stylists can make a person shine from the inside out. When I look at her pictures I cannot help but smile back.

God fills us up with His Holy Spirit when we submit ourselves to him, become vulnerable before him. He wants nothing more but to pour out this precious gift upon you, and take my word for it, it’s better than any alcohol buzz, any amount flattery and confidence, and any fireworks-y kiss. It’s the best feeling in the world.

Imagine the first church encountering the Holy Spirit. I wonder how many of them thought they had gone off their rocker. It’s Pentecost when the first church encounters the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. It says, “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” (I imagine Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.) “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” People looking in thought they were drunk, had too much wine. Then standing up, Peter announces, “They aren’t drunk. It’s only nine in the morning!” It turns out that this outpouring of God’s Spirit had been prophesied (foreseen by someone through whom God spoke) by Joel in the Old Testament.

This same amazing Spirit that rained down on the first church is still being poured out day. It is the living water; it never runs dry. And while it never runs dry, it is not attained without a commitment and life-change. Good things come to those who wait, so they say. The same is true for those who want the Holy Spirit.

You must first dedicate your life to Christ by repenting (confession and turning away from a life of sin) and vowing that you believe Jesus is your Lord and Savior and gave His life for your sins. Once you have done this and fully understand the meaning of such commitment you can consider baptism. Baptism is a symbol of your old life of sin ending and the beginning of your new life of love which strives for Christ’s righteousness. After your new life as an adopted son or daughter in Christ has begun you may pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon you. Often others will pray for you, many times while resting their hands on your shoulders or head (this is called laying on of hands). Don’t be frustrated or feel embarrassed if the Spirit doesn’t come right away. It can take time, even years, but it is worth it.

When you are filled you will know it. You will begin to see people more as God sees them, broken yet beautiful and worthy of love. You will notice many changes within you.

Let’s Pray:

Heavenly Father, we ask that each person reading this who is already your adopted Son or Daughter would be filled with your Holy Spirit whether they are ending or beginning their day. May you not hold back, but give them abundant portions of this gift you generously give. And for those who have not yet dedicated their lives to you I pray you would give them a glimpse of your goodness, that they would just get a taste of who you are. Your grace is sufficient. Lord, whether they give their lives to you today or 30 years from now they would remember this moment when they caught a glimpse of the Living God. Amen.

For those of you who would like to pray a prayer to accept Jesus as your Savior. This is just a sample of what you can say. I always tell people to change it if they want, but the attitude of the heart is key.

Heavenly Father, I want so badly to know you more. I admit I have sinned, but I am tired of sinning. I want to give my life to you so you can make it a life of forgiveness and love. I dedicate my life to you as you are my Lord and Savior who gave his life to die for my sins. I truly believe this, and thank you that you love me enough to make me a part of your family. Help me to live a life transformed by you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Take a moment to meditate on the words to this song.

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Giddy God

God delights in you. You are His beloved. We have all heard it, but do we really believe it? Do we see the evidence in our lives?

I am part of an online prayer group that developed over the past several months. It started with just 3 or 4 of us and has developed into a group of 7 women. Some of us have never even met. We celebrate joys and cry for each other’s suffering, but most importantly we pray. Over the past several months there have been many answered prayers. Most recently one of the group members got into her dream school. When praying for her I didn’t know for sure that this was the school for her. My prayer was that God’s will be done and that he know the desire of her heart. It’s amazing that His will and her dream were perfectly aligned, and her prayer was answered in just the way she imagined. As she announced the news to the group she said, “I’m shaking!” As I read the news I imagined God’s response to His dear daughter’s excitement, like a parent able to give his child her dream. My response, “Imagine God shaking with excitement along with you.”

Every God-given joy is multiplied when you reflect on His response to your joy. It comes full circle. He gives joy, we show joy, He rejoices. Happiness doesn’t do this.

Last Sunday I met with my small group and discussed sin. It was the topic of our discipleship chapter. One person asked something like, “Have you ever wondered what life would be like if you weren’t a follower of God? Did you ever try it out even for just a season?” I admitted I had. In college I thought perhaps I could believe in God and still do whatever I wanted in pursuit of happiness. From that experience I learned that happiness is fleeting, but joy lasts even in our sobriety, even in our solitude. If you find you always need someone around, a drink in your hand, a comedy on TV to be happy then you aren’t experiencing joy. And one thing I’m slowly learning is that I can’t believe in God and do whatever because it feels good and be a follower of Jesus. For one it feels so double-minded, like multiple lives. Secondly, it snuffs out all joy. There are several other reasons, but these are most relevant to the topic at hand.

If you are seeking joy over fleeting happiness try this:

  1. Read a Psalm and underline every promise, every characteristic of God. If you would like to read Psalm 23, the Shepherd’s Prayer click on the link: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+23&version=NIV
  2. Write all the underlined words and phrases inserting the pronoun “You” for God and “I” for yourself. So that when you read it they are God’s promises specifically to you.
  3. Now sit back and experience the joy you have in hearing those words. Remember, they are for you, His beloved.
  4. Reflect on God’s response to your joy in hearing His promises. Is he shaking with excitement?
  5. Watch this video, read the lyrics, even sing or dance along. Revel in it.

Enjoy your day!

Don’t Let Drought Happen to You

I spent the first 19 years of my life living in a rural farming community in Northern California. Although my parents were not farmers the entire community revolved around farming. Weather reports often referred to whether this year would be a good or bad year for crops depending on whether Spring came early or late, rainfall, freezing temperatures, etc. Later I would work for a walnut shelling plant for a few months as a temp. I found out when you are a farmer a good chunk of the battle is the weather and no amount of money can make the rain fall or the temperature rise. Some of you not currently living in Northern California might be oblivious to the fact that during a drought it’s hard to even get the water to irrigate.

Watching the news last night I saw that the governor has declared California in a state of emergency for the driest year in recorded state history. His office is recommending residents to cut back on water usage by 20%. An interview with some of his staff showed billboards featuring a dirty, dusty windshield on which someone had written with their finger “Don’t Wash Me.” The staff explained, “This is the official California summer of 2014 car.” It’s a very unfortunate, yet much more fortunate truth that we do not get to control all the elements that make our crops bear fruit.

In the first half of Mark chapter 4 Jesus teaches a crowd from a boat out in a lake. He teaches there because the crowd gets so big this is the only way he can speak to them. Standing out on the water in a boat Jesus tells the parable of the sower. (A parable is a story that tells a special lesson or truth.) He describes a farmer who scatters seeds. There must have not been a shortage of seeds because this farmer was a little careless. Seeds fell in each of these places: on a path, in rocky places, among thorns, and lastly on good soil. If you have ever planted a crop you know that seeds that go anywhere but good soil are usually hard to grow unless they are weeds. Jesus proceeds to tell the crowd that the seeds on the path get eaten by birds. The seeds in the rocky places with shallow soil spring up quickly but wither when the sun comes out. The thorns choke out what grows among them, but the good soil brings fruit. In fact, the seeds on the good soil multiply 30, 60, even 100 times.

While you might be thinking that Jesus is just giving sound farming advice, he is also giving us discipleship advice. Don’t worry if you don’t understand, the disciples didn’t either. Unfortunately after Jesus’ message he didn’t get to go watch football like some men do after church, he had to explain this somewhat cryptic message he gave. He says that each seed represents a person. The seed which falls on the path is like a person who hears the Word, but Satan quickly puts doubts in their mind, doubts that they come to believe more so than the Word. The seed in the rocky places is the person who hears and accepts the word but whose troubles make the Word to fall away. The choked out seed among thorns is like the person whose worries and desires for this world (money, fame, material objects) choke out the Word. Lastly, the seed on good soil is like those who hear and accept the Word and produce a crop 30, 60, even 100 times.

We can assume the crop Jesus is referring to is disciples. In the last verses of Matthew 28 Jesus gives us the great commission. In short, he says to go and make disciples, make Christ followers. If we can take one thing away from this parable it is to make disciples. The seed in the nourishing soil is the one that is fruitful. Ask God how you can insure you are the seed on good soil. I don’t want you to be the Official California Summer of 2014 Dusty Christian with a drought in your discipler. In Matthew 28 Jesus says “All authority in Heaven and on Earth is given to me…” You have received his inheritance. Do not squander it on keeping the Word a secret. Be bold!

Let us pray:

Lord, I pray that you make me your vessel. May your Word be my nourishment, that whatever comes out of me is from you and the fruit it produces is for you. Even though I feel like a tiny, insignificant seed at times you give me the potential to be fruitful and multiply. I do not want to experience a spiritual drought. Thank you for being my spiritual sun and water, and soil that I may multiply for your glory. Amen.

My Grandpa's Garden 2011