Thursday, July 17, 2008

Suffering for Jesus

II Timothy 2:1-6 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It's also one of the hardest to follow. When I get to heaven, I'm not sure how long it's going to take for me to ask Paul every question that I have for him. From all of the analogies he makes to running, I'm pretty sure that he was a runner. We're going to have to so run a little ultra-marathon on the streets of gold, and that might begin to cover Round 1 of my interview.

When I need to be encouraged, I find myself turning to one of Paul's letters. When I need to be reminded why I'm a Christian, I am drawn to his writings. However, most of the time when I read the text that came from his pen, I end up challenged and humbled. There are many lessons to learn from Paul's words here... let's break it down one piece at a time and see what we find.

"You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus."

Your strength comes from Christ. So did Paul's. Think about how brave he had to be. How many times was he thrown in prison? How often was he persecuted? Yet, he continued teaching and preaching with boldness. He wasn't a quiet Christian. With courage, he proclaimed the gospel wherever he went. That kind of strength can't be found in our weak flesh. But Paul never boasted about his bravery. Philippians 4:13 says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." He knew where his strength came from. Do you?

"The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses..."

Make your Christianity contageious. Many people followed Paul...why? I mean, he traveled from town to town, had no home, no shower, no bed...are you following me? He would have been dirty...and probably smelled pretty bad. Why would he have a huge crowd hanging on to his every word? Because people saw something that they didn't have, and they wanted it. Live your life in a way that is different so people will desire to "catch" your relationship with Christ.

"...entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also."

You should be mentoring and teaching others. And no, you are not too young to do so. In Paul's first letter to Timothy, he writes, "Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity; show yourself an example of those who believe." You are never too young to make an impact for Christ. You remember the disciple John - the one that Jesus entrusted his mother to when he was dying on the cross? According to historial records, he was a teenager when he was an apostle. Jesus trusted him enough to ask him to take care of his mother after his death. He might give you a huge responsibility too!

"Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus."

Difficult times come as a package deal with the gift of salvation. Hebrews 12:7 says, "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?" God uses hard times as teachable moments. I know there were times when my earthly father knew that I was not doing the right thing. Sometimes, he intervened, and at other times, he let me learn the hard way. My daddy learned this approach from God. He uses difficult situations to discipline us, just like a loving parent.

"No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier."

If you get caught up in the things of this world, you will miss chances to please God. Think about those soldiers that stand outside palaces - the ones that aren't allowed to move. They risk being fired if they blink too much! When they are on duty, they cannot be distracted by anything (even when obnoxious tourists try to do anything they can to make them laugh - not that I would know!) Christians are the same way. We cannot be distracted by the things of this world. We are to concetrate on carrying out the commands given to us by Christ.

"Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules."

In the Christian life, winning revolves around obedience. God blesses those who obey Him. Also, keep in mind that we will not always be rewarded on this earth. So when you think that you are being obedient and God is not blessing you, be patient. Your eternal reward is waiting for you. This can be hard, especially when it can seem that others around you are disobedient and appear to have everything. But don't give up. When others slip, be obedient. You will never regret it, and you will win in the end.

"The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receieve his share of the crops."

Often, things don't happen as they "ought" to. Be prepared to take the back seat. I'm the first to admit that I love the spotlight. Who doesn't? Applause. Approval. Acceptance. I don't think anyone could honestly admit that those things don't mean something to them. But it's easy for your acts of service to be overlooked. Sometimes, people get used to them. They may even learn to expect you to go above the beyond - and many times, take you for granted. But do not let yourself be discouraged and cling to the truth in Colossians 3:23-24. "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve."

Friday, July 11, 2008

Every Fairytale Needs a Rock

Snow White had seven dwarfs. Cinderella had glass slippers (or slipper depending on where you are in the story.) The Little Mermaid even claimed she was "the girl who has everything." But they were all missing the one thing you need for an amazing fairytale romance.

A rock.

Not the answer you were expecting? Hear me out.

You can find the world's biggest rock in Australia. Mount Augustus stands 2,815 feet above the surounding plain, 3,625 feet above sea level and covers 29,794,749 miles. Umm...that's a pretty big rock. Think you could move it? Shake it? Break it? Doubtful. (And if you can, I'm really thankful that there are computer screens between us!)

Imagine the God of the universe as a Rock. Using the information we have about God, His idea of a rock resembles something like Mars. Compared to Him, Mount Augustus is not even a pebble. I wouldn't dream of trying to move that Rock.

But I've tried to do it anyway. When His way didn't quite align up with mine, I've tried to push Him out of my way. I've tried to persuade Him to get what I want, even if I know deep down it's not in His perfect plan...which is as dumb as trying to move Mars.

God should be the foundation - the rock - for your love. A relationship on a foundation of superficial things will crumble. God is the only thing in this life that is unchanging and immovable. A lasting romantic relationship is not between two people, but three: God, Mr. Right, and you.

If you are reading this and married, maybe you need to ask yourself the role God plays in your marriage. If you're single, you have the opportunity to start your love of your future spouse right now by building your love of Christ.

One more thing...there's one more thing about falling in. What's the first thing you would do if you fell in a hole? A ditch? Anything below the ground?

Get out. Of course.

Another great reason not to fall in love. If you don't fall in love, you can't get out of love.

Here are some statistics that might surprise you. The Barna Research group did a study a few years back on divorce, and here is what they found: 11% of the adult population is currently divorced. 25% of adults have had at least one divorce during their lifetime. Between 41-43% of married couples today will eventually get divorced. Surprised yet? If you're not, here is one that I bet will get you...

*Divorce rates among conservative Christians were significently higher ,than for other faith groups, including atheists (people who don't believe God exists)
and agnostics (people who don't think we will ever know in this life if there is a God or not).*

Talk about a wake-up call! People who don't even believe that God exists are less likely to get divorced than God's children. That's why we have to be especially careful in our romantic relationships. Satan attacks wherever He can, and right now, it appears he is calling for war on the Christian family.

Think about it. Read over the statistics again if you need to. If Christians would build solid marriages based on the Lord and stop divorcing, non-believers would stampede the church, demanding to know our secrets. They would demand to meet our God.

One of my favorite professors advised me, "If you are looking for a mate, stop. Run after God as fast as you can. As you're running, continually look to your left and your right to see who's running beside you. When you find someone who is consistently running your pace, grab their hand, and chase after God together. Nothing can break that stride."

Ephesians 2:19-22
"So then you are no longer strangers and alients, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you are also being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit."

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Falling vs. Building

Even in the days when I thought most boys were gross, I still wanted to fall in love. Between Prince Eric of The Little Mermaid to Randy on Home Improvement and Zach on Saved by the Bell, I knew my Prince Charming had to be out there somewhere. I remember dreaming of the day when I would meet him. Naturally, he would sweep me off my feet, and we would instantly fall in love. In he would come riding on a white horse, save the day (and me, of course), and we would live happily ever after. Yep. I couldn't wait to fall in love.

Then, I started thinking about everything that I assocoated with falling.

1) Descending to a lower place (what happens when you trip over that pile of clothes in your bedroom...)

2) Pain (...and what you experience if your knee lands on something sharp in the middle of the pile)

3) Losing control/balance (Hey, nobody said walking in heels was easy!)

4) Lack of support (Have you seen how SKINNY stilettos are?!)

5) To be overthrown (like a city under attack)

6) Losing animation in expression (You know...when your smile disappears if you get bad news)

7) Embarassment (Especially if you've ever fallen UP the stairs - it takes talent.)

8) Disagreeing to the point of ending a relationship (Ever had a "falling out" with your so-called BFF?)

9) To come to nothing (like when your plans fall through)

10) Something that is deficient or lacking (Falling short of what is expected of you)

Do you still want to FALL in love? I know I don't. None of those things sound like much fun to me. How could falling in love be any different?

I know, I know. I'm married. Obviously, you are thinking I fell in love with James.

But I didn't.

Don't get me wrong. I am deeply in love with my husband. I am so excited to share my life with him and experience the romance that God intended for us to have.

Think about it though. Let's look what Jesus has to teach us about falling. Matthew 7:24-27 says, “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock; and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”

I remember the first time I ever heard this parable that Jesus taught of the wise man who built his house upon a rock and the foolish man who built his house on the sand. In all of my six-year-old wisdom, I came home from church and told my mom that we studied The Three Little Pigs in Sunday School...but the preacher must have gone too long in big church because my teacher had to leave out one of the pigs. Cute, right? :)

Imagine the foolish man's house. I can just picture this dingy surfer dude getting the bright idea that He could construct his crib on the sand - loose fine pieces of rock that are unstable, change with the tide, and can be blown away with a light breeze. Bright idea, dude. Not your gnarliest plan.

But don't we do the same thing if we FALL in love? Is that relationship built on things that are unstable, like how AMAZING their blue eyes (or tinted contacts) are? Or things that can change, like emotion? (You know you've heard the excuse, "The magic's just not there anymore.") If a relationship is not build on a firm foundation, commitment can be shifted as easily as sand.

Enter Prince Charming. He's got it all together - he's prepared, complete with a plan AND a purpose. It is not an uption for his house (aka, the relationship in our case) to fall. He's a builder.

Think for a minute about the thoughts you associate with building...

1) To join parts to create something better (i.e. turning buttons and material into a new jacket!)

2) To establish or strengthen (like building a business)

3) To base or found (such as building a relationship on trust)

4) To increase in intensity (Like how Kelly Clarkson songs always builds on the bridge leading into the last chorus)

5) To praise or compliment (For instance, when your best friend builds you up to give you the courage to go talk to that really hot guy in your English class)

What that means for the wise man is that he is buiding something that is stronger and better than before. In a storm with heavy floods and harsh winds, his house remains secure. Sounds like Prince Charming has the potential to be Mr. Right, while our gnarly surfer dude has missed his chance of even being Mr. Right NOW.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Bleeding Woman of Faith

I don't know about you, but I can be a doubter at times. If you tell me you bought a pair of Michael Antonio shoes on the sale rack for $4.99, have your receipt ready. If someone told me they were giving James and I a two-week cruise in the Carribean for a second honeymoon, I would try and contain my excitement until I was actually on the boat. What can I say? I don't like to be set up for disappointment. However, there's a woman in the Bible with amazing faith...unlike me. Her faith was so incredible that her story is actually included in Scripture three times! Pick your Gospel, and check out Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-34, or Luke 8:43-48...

Okay, now that you've read it from the source, I'll tell you my version. This poor woman has been bleeding for 12 years - that's over half of my life! Can you imagine the pain and how weak this woman must have felt? If you've ever bled for longer than a few minutes, you know that it's absolutely draining. She had to have been exhausted all the time.

But here was the worst part. In that day, if you were bleeding, you were considered unclean. No one could even touch her...and she wasn't allowed to touch anyone - it was LAW. So that's 12 years of bleeding with no hugs, no pats on the back, no strokes of her hair. Human touch is so comforting. As soon as I get upset, I immediately feel a little better once someone hugs me. Seriously, what girl doesn't like to be held when she's hurting? There are just some things we never outgrow.

This woman is on the street, and Jesus walks by her. Now, Jesus was in a hurry because Jairus needed Him to come to his house because his daughter was dying. He was also surrounded by a huge crowd. She didn't have time to spill her sob story to Him in hopes that He would heal her, as He had been performing many miracles. The only time that she had with Jesus was to just touch Him as He walked by...and maybe, just MAYBE she would be healed. But remember...she wasn't allowed to touch anyone. How would she ever get his attention?

As Jesus walked by, this woman was overwhelmed by faith, reached out her hand, and touched His robe as He walked by. The Bible says, "Immediately, her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering." (Mark 5:29). WOW! IMMEDIATELY, her bleeding stopped, and she stopped hurting. Just from touching Jesus' clothing. What joy! What FREEDOM! But wait a second...Jesus stopped and turned around. Oh no. Did He know she had touched Him? Was she about to be jailed for breaking the law?

Jesus asked, "Who touched my clothes?" Okay...I'm not sure about you, but if I was walking in the middle of a huge crowd and I felt something brush against my shirt, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't freak out. But Jesus knew that there was something different about this touch. A little frightened, the woman came forward. She knew if Jesus knew someone had touched His clothes that He also would know she was the one who touched Him.

And then, she did what any normal girl would do in a situation where she thought she would be in trouble. She cried. (You know tears work...or at least buy some time!) She fell at the feet of our Lord and poured out her story between her tears. When she finished, she looked up, and I believe that she looked into the pair of the kindest eyes that you could ever imagine. He wasn't angry. Not at all. Jesus was moved by her faith.

Now, I don't have a Scripture account for this. I mean, stories like this make it obvious that men wrote the Bible. There's not much detail and definately not a lot of touchy-feely stuff. But this is a touchy-feely story! And all Matthew, Mark, and Luke can give me is that Jesus said, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace, and be freed from your suffering." Now, don't get me wrong. Those are powerful words, and I believe that Jesus said them. But I also want to know that Jesus placed his hand on her face and helped her stand up. I want to know that He hugged her and THEN he told her that her faith had healed her! When I get to heaven, Matthew, Mark, Luke and I are going to talk about writing descriptive accounts...or I might just find her and get the details.

Again, our fact-favoring writing boys of the Bible simply move on in Scripture to the next miracle. But let's stay for a moment with that woman and imagine what it would have been like. Just minutes before, she was sick, bleeding, unclean, and suffering. But after ONE TOUCH from Jesus and because of her faith in Him, she was healed. She was clean. She was no longer in pain. I imagine that as Jesus walked on that this woman fell back to her knees. I believe that she felt totally wrapped in God's presence and unbelievably grateful. Her faith had been rewarded.

So what exacty can we learn from this amazing woman of faith? Do you need an appointment to come to Jesus? No. Is Jesus EVER too busy for us? Absolutely not. Is there a problem that we have that He doesn't care about? No way. He is always there for us when we need Him. All you have to do is have faith and reach out to Him.

Touch Jesus today, and let Him heal you - whatever that may mean for you.