Category Archives: fellowship

when Christians fight

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believe me, it happens.  I’ve seen it from all sides.  churches that unraveled.  families that split.  folks that haven’t spoken in decades.  I hate it every time.  It can get dirty.  And it always hurts.

In fact, seeing unresolved conflicts from those who claim the name of Christ was part of the reason that I walked away from God 10 years ago.  I figured if God wasn’t big enough to keep his people in line, He wasn’t a God that I wanted to worship.  I wanted a big God, and that didn’t seem “big” to me.  Some of the conflicts have hit very close to home for me.  Growing up, my family left several churches over “unresolvable” issues.  I have close family members that have not spoken to each other in years…and in some instances, even decades.  I’ve had to forgive folks who have severely hurt me.  The hurts are real.  The pain is deep.  There’s not an easy answer.  And it’s easy to see the depth of hurt and pain and to lose hope.

But I forget God is at work behind the scenes, even in situations that seem to not be improving at all.  I forget that my perspective is limited and He knows the beginning from the end.  I forget that in spite of sin, He can be glorified.  And this past week, I’ve been pushed again to pray for reconciliation in my family like never before.

Part of that “pushing” came through the public announcement that CJ Mahaney, President of Sovereign Grace Ministries was stepping down.  It seems that it came to a head over the past year or so as Brent Detwiler, a former pastor within Sovereign Grace, sent documents to CJ asking for a public apology for certain sin patterns Brent observed.  This is one of the issues that has hit close to home for me.  I came to know Christ through Sovereign Grace Ministries, which was founded by CJ, and many of CJ’s sermons over the past 7 years have been used by God to teach me how to truly live out what I believe.  But Brent preached the sermon that God used to arrest my heart and save me 7 1/2 years ago, and has been pivotal in several specific areas of my life.  I have great respect for both of these men.  God has used both greatly, not only in my life, but in thousands of Christians around the world.  I’ve spent the past week reading the story from both sides and praying for not only these two, but all parties involved in the reconciliation process.

My heart is heavy but excited.  I hate conflict.  But I believe that both CJ and Brent love God.  Both of them seem to be seeking true reconciliation with each other and that is very exciting.  God is at work.  God is doing something.  He is big enough to resolve unresolved issues.  I’ve seen it before.  When folks look at Christians, i think it is honestly more of an impact for them to see genuine, honest people, instead of the appearance of perfection.  Christians fight and disagree at times, but how they resolve issues is the important matter… Christ has changed our hearts, and that changes our actions.

I look forward to the example of these two men as I observe this from a distance.  He can be glorified by how they walk through this.  But more importantly for me, He can be glorified for how I walk through this.  Its easy for my heart to want to pick sides.  Its easy to become so wrapped up in every e-mail, every announcement, every detail that I miss the bigger picture…  God is doing something great here… through difficult circumstances.  And I like seeing God at work.

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these are my friends

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“Though my natural instinct is to wish for a life free from pain, trouble, and adversity, I am learning to welcome anything that makes me conscious of my need for Him.  If prayer is birthed out of desperation, then anything that makes me desperate for God is a blessing… Puritan pastor William Gurnall makes this point in his writings, “The hungry man needs no help to teach him how to beg.” Nancy Leigh DeMoss

I’m learning to apply this quote.  I’m learning painfully and slowly and through many tears that anything that makes me desperate for God is a blessing.  I’m learning to meet God in the barrenness that my soul has felt over the past 8 months… though I have continually begged for God to take it away.

It was hard when I realized that this season of trying to conceive a child is now the same length as my worst season of intense migraines several years back.  It seems this is a topic most don’t really talk about openly and I understand why.  But my life has too much of God’s fingerprints on every twist and turn to not share.  And I can’t divorce what I’m going though from who I am.  So, you get it all.  The good, the bad and the ugly.  Looking back at that season of physical pain I have no answers to why.  Looking back all I see is that season brought me closer to God.  And though I didn’t feel that way then, I’m grateful for it.  And though often again I struggle for hope and joy, I know God is at work.

My friends and my sweet husband have hope for me on the days when I have none of my own.  I just want to brag on them.  They have carried me through so many days and tears.  5 new babies. 19 pregnant friends.  And yesterday 19 became 20.  And I wept.  #20 is yet to be publicly announced, but #20 is harder for me than probably all the others combined.  I’m grateful to God for my friends and for Ted.  Here is some of their encouragement to me:

Wish I could hug you right now. So grateful that we can always find comfort and rest in God.  Was just praying for you too.  So wish you weren’t so far away.

“As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number…” Job 5:8

God has laid that on your heart and Ted’s, and so we will walk in that promise, and each month ask for grace…I want you to have a bowl full, a universe full of Hope in Jesus. I want that more than anything, but waiting for a baby is such a difficult hurtful time for anyone as you know. However, as your friend, I have enough hope for the both of us. So for now, I will carry your heart regarding the pain of all of this, praying! Let me also be full of hope for you….When you have dried your tears and are able to get up again by His grace, remind yourself that He will bless you no matter if you are good or bad. Blessings aren’t necessarily earned, they are grace bestowed gifts often given to remind me(us) that they come even when we are at our worst. That is mercy. So, I don’t want you coming home working hard to get any results. I want you coming back to your home resting. (in your heart) Resting in the knowledge that God is steadfast in His love and gracious and merciful and faithful, and He will choose to do things that will bring honor to His precious name. I just want my friend to know that He is for YOU. He is For you! He is for you.

“One thing I think is so awesome through all of this trial is that you and Ted are so close! It is SUCH a blessing to have a husband you can depend on for emotional support!!! Wow =) And this might be bringing you even closer. I really admire your relationship together. I understand how you can feel anger. Wait on the Lord and He will renew your strength.  And smile knowing that you have a wonderful husband and Heavenly Father” =)

Once again, so grateful for my friends and my dear husband.  God has blessed me greatly.  Gives me hope to wait for dawn.

“In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead ( since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.” Romans 4: 18-24

prison clothes and the King’s table

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ever feel like you are underdressed for an occasion?  you show up for a party in jeans and a sweater and everyone else is dressed up?  imagine that the President invites you to the White House for a dinner party… would you show up in jeans?  of course not.  You would be embarrased if you were so drastically underdressed and i’m sure you’d feel very out of place. 

growing up for the first 20 years of my life in mostly fundamentalist churches, I often heard something like this as an encouragement to wear your best clothes to church on Sunday… to dress up when you come into the presence of the King to show reverence and respect.

but the reality is, God looks much deeper than the outward appearance and examines what is truly at the heart level.   I am not saying it is wrong to wear nice clothes to church, but personally, I am not of the conviction that God is impressed by my pantyhose and knee-length skirt.  He is impressed by a heart of humility that seeks to serve his Body and worship Him for His holiness. 

but all too often I am tempted to think that because God looks on the heart, I am in trouble.  that He knows my sin and I often feel ashamed to stand before the King with prison clothes on my heart.  Aware of His holiness, my sin can feel so condemning and overwhelming.

I’m so grateful for times when God reminds me that this simply is not true.  That Jesus died not only to save me from hell, but to release the chains that are around my heart that is so prone to sin.  I am not captive to those sins anymore.  Those prison clothes are not what defines my heart.  My heart has been changed and is now ruled by Jesus Christ.

but it often doesn’t feel like that does it?  condemnation.  shame.  regret.  fear.  those things can often overcloud the 3 words so precious to me:  “it is finished.”  as Martin Lloyd Jones stated in his book Spiritual Depression, its exactly at those times that I need to stop listening to myself and start talking to myself… to start talking truth from God’s Word. 

Several years ago, I read through the Bible in 3 months.  There were a few passages that jumped out to me at that time.  One was the first five verses of Zechariah 3…

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD was standing by.

I shared this passage in Care Group Friday night along with an impression that God wanted to encourage those in the group that struggle with this very thought… with the thought of standing before God in our prison rags… that He wants to remind us that through the blood of Jesus Christ, we are accepted… our clothes are changed, our chains are gone and we are invited in as a child of God as a result of His amazing grace.

Yesterday at church, it was encouraging to see the Holy Spirit move.  Someone came up during worship and shared the exact same passage… Zechariah 3:1-5 and the exact same encouragement to the body of Christ.  It edified my heart to see God working in various means to build up and refresh his church.  And from such an “obscure” passage… 

After care group on Friday, someone shared with me another passage along the same lines… 2 Kings 25:29:

So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table.

I think this accurately displayes who we are in Christ.  I pray that God encourages each of you who know Him with the hope found in the truth that we were… “once your enemy, now seated at your table.”  Jesus, thank you.

grace… and your deepest darkest secret…

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so last night at care group i was freshly reminded of grace… God’s grace to me, an undeserving sinner.

During worship, it seemed each song was a reminder of how faithful God is in the midst of our failures.  I had talked with my care group leader, Matt, a while ago about sharing a specific area of my life where God had been at work.  But its an area that has been well hidden.  its an area that is combined with much shame and fear on my part.  Yet, somehow, its an area of my life that God is working to redeem.  And though my own sinful desires would rather not share it, I knew last night that God was calling me to.  He was calling me to open up and share things I didn’t know how it would be received.  And He was calling me to do this and trust in Him to deliver me of fear and shame.

I’m honestly not sure what all I said.  What I remember is that after I shared, one of my friends asked if they could pray for me.  So, everyone gathered around and prayed that God would work as a result.  I was so encouraged, I can’t even begin to put it into words.  I am so grateful for the gift that God has given me through my friends at my church.  I pray that God would be at work in our group, in allowing us to grow together on a deep level, so that we know no matter what, that God is our hope.

After care group, I can’t tell you the number of people that came and thanked me.  So, God is already at work.  Somehow through my sin and lack of trust and failure over and over again, HE is receiving much glory.  And comforting my heart too.

I was reminded of an amazing passage yesterday… Psalm 78.  It talks about the Children of Israel, and just how many times they turned away.  But the focus isn’t just there…According to verses 1-7, the story is meant to be told so that people would set their hope in God, not forget His works and so that they would keep His commandments.  Its not a story of the Israelite’s failure as much as its a story of God’s faithfulness.

“They forgot His works and the wonders that he has shown them… He split rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.  He made streams come out of the rock and caused waters to flow down like rivers.  Yet they sinned still more against Him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert.  They tested God in their hearts by demanding food they craved.  They spoke against God saying “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?  He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed.  Can He also give bread or provide meat for His people?”  Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of wrath… because they did not believe in God and did not trust His saving power.  Yet he commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven… he sent them food in abundance…and they ate and were well filled… but while the food was still in their mouths…despite the wonders, they did not believe…

their heart was not steadfast toward him, they were not faithful to his covenant.  YET HE, being compassionate atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath.  He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again. How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert.  They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel.  They did not remember his power or the day when He redeemed them from the foe…but He led out his people like sheep and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.  He led them in safety so that they were not afraid…Yet they tested and rebelled against the most High God and did not keep his testimonies…but He chose the tribe of Judah… which He loves.  He chose David his servant and took Him from the sheepfolds; from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people… With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with His skillful hand.”

I’m so glad my God is faithful.  I’m so glad my growth to become more like Him is not dependent on my effort alone. I fail every day. But I’m so glad that my God leads and guides me gently, provides for me in my need and comforts me in my weakness and despair.

what are you doing, God?

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ever have those times where you ask “What are you doing, God?”  I know His ways are higher than mine.  I know that He loves me and give and takes for my good.  I know what He’s given me, He also has the right to take away when He should choose.  And I know looking back that every time God has taken something from me its always been for my good, even though immensely painful and gut-wrenching at times.  I know that though things can be taken, that nothing can separate me from His love.  How I need that love to hold me close today.  How I long for my war-torn heart to rest there. 

God seems to be shifting me from one furnace to another.  And I am as unhappy with this appointment as I was with the last.  How I long for it to end.  Trials are a funny thing like that… you beg and beg for them to end and as soon as they do you realize that you’ve learned so much more than ever possible had you not gone through that trial.  So as incomprehensible as it seems to your feelings, you find yourself thanking God for what you just walked through.  And simultaneously you pray that you’d never have to go through it again.  In many ways, that’s where I’m at.  I’m grateful for the trials that God has carried me through because I know to a greater degree the depths of His love, care and compassion towards me.  But as I face yet again another trial, I approach it with the same dread and horror as I faced the last.  Horror because as God is calling me to pick up my cross and follow Him, I’m seeing the death, pain, suffering and heartache that accompanies that cross.  And nothing in me wants to go there. 

Yet somehow my loving Shepherd has promised to be with me each step of the way.  He has promised to complete what He has begun.  He has already cared for me time after time and He is faithful.  Because of that, through His strength to hold me, with His help, I will rest in His control over this.  I am choosing to look past the pain, to look past the cross to my Strong Deliverer, who defeated the power of death and the cross.  He will preserve me by His mercy.  He is my Rock in the middle of the storms.  God has promised to complete what He’s begun, therefore I can have hope that He will keep me safe and true in Him…even here, even in this, even though nothing in me wants this.

Somehow I’m excited to see God provide.  As He keeps taking and in my mind its getting even more difficult for Him to provide, I look to my Jehovah-Rophe with hopeful anticipation to meet my needs and comfort my sorrows.  I haven’t really known what to say lately because it seems there are no words to describe the unutterable ache in my soul.  Nothing seems sufficient other than crying to my Maker… the One who knows me and will never leave me alone.  So, in my loneliness, I look to the One who will never leave, abandon or forsake.  In my pain, I look to the One who suffered in my place.    In my despair, I look to the only One who was ever forsaken by God with gratitude that He will not leave me here.  And in my moments (or days) when I just want to complain, I remember how good He has been to me.  The God who restored my broken soul and gave me life, the God who gives me a reason for joy in my mourning, the God who drew me through His kindness and irresistable love… that God will not quit.  So I look to Him.

who were you five years ago?

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yesterday when I was meeting with Matt (my pastor) we were talking about God’s power to change lives.  Often I feel that its up to me to change myself… that its up to my great faith (oh wait, i don’t have that).  I get discouraged when change doesn’t happen as quickly as I think it should.  I feel like I’m letting God down by not “holding up my part of the bargain.”  After all, He saved me, its my job to “return the favor” by living for Him, right? 

As I’m writing this, it seems absurd to think this way.  Yet I find this thinking is so pervasive in my life.  When things are hard, I naturally assume that its because I did something wrong or failed to trust God fully or that its judgment for something I did wrong in my past.  And when things go well, I assume its because I did something right and God is pleased therefore He makes my life easy.

So Matt asked me to list ways that I am different from 5 years ago.  He wanted to know specifics of what has changed and what caused those changes.  To be honest with you I didn’t know where to start…   Really the only thing that is the same now is my name.  And the fact that I’m employed full time.  But even where I’m employed is different. 

Here are a 5 things that have changed in my life in the last 5 years:
1.  Five years ago I did not care about God.  I did not love God.  Today, I’m aware my love for Him is very small, very imperfectly offered and not nearly as passionate as it should be, but I do in fact love Him.  And my desire is to love Him more and more each day. 

2.  Five years ago, my desires, passions and lusts controlled every aspect of my life.  I lived for what I wanted.  I did what I wanted.  I didn’t care who didn’t like it.  But God drew me to Him by showing me His kindness.  He showed me that His love is so far superior to the desires of my flesh.  He gave me a hope that was so far greater than sex, drugs and uncontrolled passion.  I want to know this God who gave so much to prove His love for me.

3.  Five years ago, I was a thief, drunk, druggie, controlled by the passions of my flesh.  I was controlled by my sins.  I could do nothing other than carry out those desires.  But God grabbed me from that slavery.  He showed me immesurable kindness.  He gave me this gift, changed my desires and now I can say that none of those desires control my life.  That’s not who I am anymore. 

4.  Five years ago, when I first began coming to Sovereign Grace Church, it was because they had something to offer me.  I could get something from them.  They gave me free meals, they gave me intelligent (well, sometimes) conversations, they gave me friendship.  And they asked nothing in return.  I came for what I could get from them.  And for several years, I simply came and took.  Today, by God’s grace, I still am receiving so many benefits from my friends but now I actually call them friends.  And I try to be a friend to them as well.  I desire to pass along the same kindness and mercy they showed over the past five years.  I desire to reconcile when differences arise.  It is a highlight of my week to talk each Sunday with my dear, sweet friends, pray with and for them and serve them in many little ways.  Again, I’m aware that I still take more than I give, but its only by God’s grace that I’m there at all… and that I’m giving at all.  So, that gives me faith that one day I’ll give more… more freely and with more joy.

5.  Five years ago, life was about me.  I’m often tempted to despair because I see so much of my life is still about me.  And I know that needs to change.  But five years ago, my heart desired only to serve myself.  After God captured my heart and offered me salvation, my desire is now to live my life for Him.  And I know that desire didn’t start with me.

 

So, there you have it… a brief snapshot of what God has done.  Matt then reminded me that everything I had just told him was all a work of God’s grace alone.  I did nothing to change myself.  Every change that has happened in the past 5 years was a result of His loving hand working in my life.  It wasn’t because I desired to change or because I made myself change.  I can claim no part in those changes.  They are all a work of God’s grace.  He went on to read Galatians 3 where Paul asks the Galatians if they are so foolish to really believe that what God started they must now finish.  Matt then reminded me that, just like the Galatians, I didn’t begin this work and its not up to me to finish it.  Actually, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t.  It is a work of grace from a God of grace.  None of it is a work of my own ability… God designed it that way so He would get the glory and so that I wouldn’t boast. 

That’s very humbling… on two fronts.  First, that God would really love me that much.  That He knows all my sin and weakness and failure and that He simply offers to me His open hand full of love.  And He asks nothing in return.  I wish I had something to offer to thank Him for that gift.  But He says even if I did, He wouldn’t be pleased with that.  And second, its humbling because there is nothing I can do other than stand in awe of a God that is that great.  He began this work in me.  He is currently working in me.  And He has promised to complete it.  All I can do is sit back in thankfulness and be amazed at such grace.

 

So, my question for you is this… How has God changed you in the last 5 years?   How have His amazing works of grace transformed you from who you once were?

fun times :)

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today is valentines day.  some cynics choose to call it singles awareness day… or a day designed by desperate chocolate makers simply to boost sales after the Christmas slump.   in my 27 years, i’ve had varying types of valentines days and have been both in the love bug and the cynic category.

this year was something altogether new for me.  the guys in our singles group from church, spearheaded by Barry, put together an amazing night for us gals.  in total there were 18 of us and i think somewhere like 12 or 13 waiters, chefs, musicians and water-refillers.  i didn’t get an exact count because they never stood still.  but here’s what happened…

in an effort to bless us, aware this can be a difficult day of struggling with discontentment, our guys pampered us beyond belief.  the evening started with a salad of mixed greens, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, mushrooms and olives with a choice of dressing, followed by an amazing dinner of steak, portobello mushroom, baked potatoes and rolls and finished with rice krispy treats and red velvet cake.  there were gluten free marinated steaks for those of us allergic to wheat (there’s quite a few allergies in our group), and the rice krispy treats were so that we could also have a dessert.

after dinner the guys sang to us (HILARIOUS), gave us each a rose and cleaned everything up.  it was such a nice, peaceful relaxing evening.  and to make sure that they were available to serve us, they ate little ceasers pizza ahead of time so that they could make sure our glasses were never empty and our plates were always full.  i mean, that right there’s a sacrifice… give up steak and potatoes and watch 18 girls eat it instead??!!  :)  and the whole thing?? zero dollars (well, for the girls anyways!)

it was an amazing evening… just a reminder that God provides for us… always.

it was 5 years ago tonight that I was putting an engagement ring on my finger.   i never thought the last 5 years would turn out the way they did.  But God in His kindness, knew that this path was the one for me.  He chose in His amazing lovingkindness, to not give me my way when i was planning to get married 5 years ago.  He protected me and I can look back now with gratitude for where I am now.  But that was a painful time indeed.  i spent many nights questioning what God was doing and why.  I lacked faith in His care for me.  I doubted His love as I saw my world come crashing apart.  Yet over and over and over again, He patiently and faithfully and tenderly proved His compassionate love to me… though often in ways I didn’t understand or like.

and right now, I find myself in yet another one of those seasons… questioning, doubting, lacking hope, and wondering what my God is doing here.  but tonight was a glimpse to me of God’s care… of His insight… of His tender love to me.  He cared for me tonight through a dozen or so amazing godly guys whom I am blessed beyond belief to call my brothers and friends.  yeah, my God does care for me… tonight was yet another example.

so, thanks guys!  thanks for your service. thanks for your encouragement.  thanks for reminding me that God cares for me.  thanks for the laughs.  thanks for the picture of humility and service.  you are all amazing guys!

and thank you God for your care.  thank you for your patience with me in the midst of my doubts and hopeless self-introspection.  thank you that you guide my steps and that even when those steps are painful and hard, that you are good.  please help me to trust in your care.  please help me to find hope in knowing that your ways are indeed best.