Sunday, May 28, 2017

Flipping the Switch to Love

 "And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil." Deuteronomy 11:13-14

I love predictable outcomes.  I appreciate that when I press a button on a tv remote control, I will get to watch the show I want. I am so grateful every time I push the start button on my dishwasher to begin the amazing transformation of dirty to sparkling clean. Flipping a switch to turn on a light is just brilliant.  Dependable wifi makes almost everything, including this blog post, so much easier.   I have recently realized that my desire for things being predictable strongly influenced my relationship with God.  Just like flipping a light switch, I read the Bible to figure out how to get what I wanted and needed from God.   

My desire for predictability lead me to passages such as those in Deuteronomy that basically said, "If I obey God He would bless me." Here's an example from Deuteronomy 28:2 "And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God. 3Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. 4Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock.5Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 6Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out." (emphasis mine)  

I wanted blessing so I decided I needed to flip the switch by obeying.  As a logical person, this made perfect sense.  This goes back to learning "if then" theorems in geometry. If I am obedient, then God would bless me.

I memorized scriptures like 1 Samuel 15:22 "But Samuel replied: "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.""  

These scriptures convinced me if I obeyed, I would be blessed and I wouldn't have to make sacrifices.  It was just what I was looking for to meet my need for predictability.   It really was a win/win. God got obedience and I got blessings.  

Going down the path of predictable obedience can lead to legalism- when people begin to worship the laws as the source of blessing rather than the Law Giver- and I thought I was doing pretty good at avoiding legalism until I got into a conversation with my friend April.  She is a vegetarian and after talking to her about her love of animals, I was a little worried she might have let her love of animals go too far.    As she shared with me her heart for all creation as evidence of God's love, I realized that she had chosen to live every part of her life in worship and adoration of the Creator.  She would exercise by kayaking mountain lakes to worship God and marvel at the beauty all around her, she writes poetry to put into words her adoration of God, she leads music so that others join her in worshiping God and what she eats or doesn't eat was also her act of worship. 

After talking with her, I realized that I don't exercise out of love and adoration for my Creator but out of obedience to be a good steward of my body. Even what I eat is motivated by obedience not by love.  Many years ago, I was obedient when I felt God called me to give up milk for Lent and as a result, I was miraculously healed from arthritis.Truth is I loved ice cream and cheese but I was obedient because I wanted the blessing.  I give our tithe out of obedience not because I am motivated by a passionate love for supporting the church and its ministries.  Obedience leads to blessing because if then statements based on God's Word are true, as a result,  I have been spared much heart break and blessed with countless blessings because of my obedience.

There is no doubt that obedience for the sake of obedience alone leads to blessings but after talking to April, I realized that I have missed fully enjoying the blessings of obedience because I saw everything as a task rather than an act of love.  While I love God and am certain He loves me, worship and adoration of my Creator weren't my motivation. 

Going beyond obedience to adoration is so important that when Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, He said "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27. 

Jesus was paraphrasing the Deuteronomy 11:13-14 "And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil."   Focusing on the phrase "obey my commandments"  meant the people of Jesus' time studied hundreds of commandments and laws but they had missed that they were supposed to love the Lord with all their heart and soul. 

I have realized that basing my actions in love even translates into my relationship with my family.  When I cook dinner I have a choice to decide, "Am I doing this as a duty or as an act of love," when I kiss my husband, is it a duty or an act of love, when I buy a birthday present, am I doing it as an act of love, what about when I unload the dishwasher or take out the trash?   If thinking this way can transform the most mundane parts of my life, how much more revolutionary will it be in my relationship with God? 

I have to admit -I am still trying to figure this out.  This is pretty revolutionary for me so I would love to get your perspective.  How do you live every part of your life in adoration of God? How do you let your love of God allow you to experience life beyond predictability?   Let me know your thoughts.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

God's Story Over Time

The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Psalm 37:23  NLT

I have to admit- I love a good story.  Over the past couple of days, I have heard some great stories that illustrate that one of my favorite verses, "The steps of a man are established by the Lord and he delights in his way." Psalm 37:23

My husband's friend, who is in the telecom industry, told an amazing story about being part of the Amazon Kindle 2's launch team. He was responsible for making sure readers could download books without a wifi connection.  The important part of his story wasn't the technological prowess required to accomplish this feat but how God brought the team together.   You see, 15 years before the Kindle's launch, he and a couple of other guys were working as consultants on bank mergers.  They were working 70 hours a week in the very small town of Rocky Mount, NC.  As their consulting days came to an end, the guys all went in separate directions.  Our friend went into telecom, one joined a design firm and the other headed to the west coast.   They never imagined they would work together again.  Yet as the Kindle 2 was being launched, they found themselves reunited on a conference call.  The friendship they had developed over 15 years before meant that trust and commitment were already in place.  They pooled their resources and experience to finish the technological part and then God opened the door for the Kindle 2 to be tried by Oprah's book club.   As they say, the rest is history!

I don't have high tech stories that involve Oprah but I can see just as clearly how God has brought people into my life long ago as a gift that still blesses me today.  My first blog post tells the story of my book proposal being read by a top Christian editor.  Truly God directed my path. 

 This week I was so blessed to hear best-selling author and speaker Renee Swope share about her journey from doubt to confidence.  I was excited to hear her speak because 20 years ago, my future husband and I were in a Crown Ministries Bible Study with her husband and her.  Our group of 6 couples were seeking to know God's Word and how it applied in our lives. Renee was just starting to help out with a newsletter for an organization called Proverbs 31.  I remember visiting her house as she was stapling the newsletters and getting them ready to be mailed. Over the past 20 years, God has blessed hundreds of thousands of women because she was willing to serve him.  I looked back on our prayer log at that time and saw that she was pregnant with her youngest son.  A highlight of hearing her speak, was meeting this great young man at her book table.  In the few minutes we talked at her book table, they shared a bit of his story. The transformation God had made in his heart was evident and I couldn't help but marvel at seeing the fruit of prayers our group had prayed for him even before he was born. You never know how one prayer, one word of encouragement or your willingness to help a friend with a newsletter will bless someone else.

Many years ago, I read a book that examined Christianity, Judaism and Islam from an analytical and comparative perspective.  The author pointed out that both Christianity and Judaism are based in history. You can use outside historical documents to verify the rules of  Caesar Augustus, King Herod, Hezekiah, Sennacherib and King Solomon, and Pharaoh. What is unique about the Bible is that tells the story of God's intervention and role directing the steps of his chosen people Israel and even those who don't honor him like Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar and Sennacherib in the context of time and history.  

One of my favorite Bible stories that show how God prepares us for what is to come in the future is the story of David.  David was secretly anointed by the priest Samuel to be the next king of Israel though he was still very young. His shepherding life didn't change until his dad sent him to take food to his older brothers on the battlefield. After he volunteered to fight the giant Goliath and defeated him, King Saul asked David to live with him.  God used this time in Saul's household to prepare him to be the future king of Israel.   Soon after this, Saul tried to kill David and sent him into exile.  David's path wasn't easy but God used it to hone his leadership skills, teach him to depend on him and develop patience and trust. Even as Saul's men were waiting to kill him, David wrote, 
"But I will sing of your strength,
    in the morning I will sing of your love;for you are my fortress,    my refuge in times of trouble.You are my strength, I sing praise to you;    you, God, are my fortress  my God on whom I can rely.Psalm 59:16 &17

God prepared, protected him and directed David 's path.  Looking back on his life David wrote in Psalm 37:34 "Wait for the Lord and keep his way,
    and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
    you will look on when the wicked are cut off."

God delights in every detail of our lives.  He will orchestrate events and experiences that prepare us for us for what is to come in the future. God takes an eternal perspective and sometimes we don't understand how being a shepherd, defeating a giant and running for our lives could be His plan, yet as an old man, David confidently wrote in Psalm 37:3-6 
Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
   your vindication like the noonday sun.

If you are in a hard time or if you feel like you aren't doing what God called and anointed you to do- hold on.  Wait for the Lord, Trust in the Lord, and Take Delight in the Lord as you continue to do good and commit everything you do to Him.  Over time He will reward you and vindicate you.  

Hearing stories of God's hand of preparation and blessing over time is so encouraging to me.  How have you seen God work over time in your life?  

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Invasion of the Sweet Violets

"But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live." Numbers 33:55

As the cool evening air started creeping in, I found myself not only pulling weeds but also pulling a plant I originally planted at the front of my house.  The flower bed outside my front door is filled with bulbs, perennials and a few annuals.  In the fall, I like to plant Dianthus and in the spring, they come back more beautiful than before.  In the same patch of garden, I planted bulbs that transform into daffodils, hyacinths and beautiful lily of the valleys that always make me think of my mom because she had lily of the valley in her wedding over 50 years ago.  Scattered between the lilies and the Dianthus are wild violets. 

The violets have a special story because many years ago my sweet little four year old wanted to dig up some violets from the natural area behind our house.  They were so sweet and beautiful and he was so earnest so the two of us carefully transplanted a small clump. Over the last eight years, those violets have been busy doing what God made them to do and filled up my flower bed. Unfortunately, they have also jumped the sidewalk and have migrated into our lawn. 

The last time our weed man came to treat our lawn, he checked violets on his list of uncontrollable weeds.  I was shocked and sad.  This sweet little plant that seemed so innocent and lovely had become an uncontrollable weed that had invaded our grass and even flower beds far from where I originally planted it. So as I was pulling the dreaded Poa Annua weed, I was also pulling rampant violets. Unfortunately I have only scratched the surface of the problem by confining them to a section of the garden.  This is a temporary solution that means every year I have more violets. 

As I have been trying to decide what to do with the violets, I couldn't help but think of how easily sin can creep into our lives and seemingly start out so sweet and innocent.  A bit of curiosity, a fun gift from a friend or even a habit passed down from our parents and before we know it, we are caught in an addiction and something small and manageable has taken over vast parts of our mind and heart.

When God called his people into the Promised Land, He gave then very specific instructions, in Numbers 33:51 he told Moses,“Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into Canaan,f 52 drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places.g    This was a refresh for the Israelites beause he had commanded them in the first two commandments given in Exodus 20, "“You shall have no other gods beforea me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 

Get the picture, God is leading his people into the Promised Land, He knows if they are not diligent in getting rid of the idols and places where people worship them, they will lose their focus on Him and fall into the patterns of sin that are prevalent in the land.  

So God warned them in Numbers 33:55:56. "But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thornsm in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live.  And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them.n’ 

God is telling his people- if you aren't diligent in removing the sin and idolatry in the land.  It will infect you like a virus.  I will have to remove you from the land because you will be just as contaminated as the people who are there now.  

In Colossians 3:5-6, Paul wrote a similar message to believers who hadn't gotten rid of the sinful weeds in their hearts and lives.  He wrote "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature:sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming." In both Numbers and Colossians, God is warning His people to beware of tolerating sin in their lives. If they aren't diligent in removing the sin, the wrath of God is coming.  Wow.  

This warning resonates with me and my garden of violets.  There is only one way for me to stop the spread of violets into my lawn and every inch of my garden. I have to destroy it.  I literally have to dig up every inch of it and every plant.  I have to dig up every daffodil, narcissus. and lily of the valley bulb.  I will have to take them out of the soil and then remove every inch of the soil contaminated by the violets. Then I will have to put in brand new soil and replant all the bulbs.  I won't get all the violets and  I will lose some of the bulbs I have carefully planted over the years.  But this is the only way.   It won't be easy. 

Cleaning up my flower bed will be a lot of hard work that could have been prevented if I had realized there was a reason violets aren't sold at my local home and gardening store. I didn't know but I still have to live with the consequences. Sin is the same way.  In my ignorance, I have tolerated behaviors I grew up with or my friends were doing and now years later, I realized how destructive they are.  

Eradicating them takes work but the benefits are magnificent.  God promised Joshua as he was leading the Israelites into the Promised Land, “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses  gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left,that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:7-9

Don't be afraid, the blessings are so great, God will be with you and you will be able to enjoy life rather than spending your days pulling weeds and dealing with the consequences of on going sin.
Has God shown you sins in your life that you need to eradicate even if they are something that your friends do or that you grew up with? Take the time to pray and ask God to set you free.  Be strong and courageous.