Christian Living

How to Be Faithful

Sorry guys! I know it’s been a while. We’ve been fighting through more car and computer problems. I feel like it’s the story of my life lately! Anyway, computer availability has been spotty, but hopefully we have a solution now at least for e-mail and blogging. This week I’ve been thinking a lot about faithfulness. Probably because I’ve been tired and in pain a fair bit which has slowed my activity level. For a long time, I thought faithfulness was about how I acted, what I did. Having a chronic illness that occasionally brings my life to a screeching halt has forced me to reexamine that belief.

So what is faithfulness?

The definition I wrote down last week was “living each moment according to faith’s perspective.” It’s being full of faith in a tangible way. I’m reminded of James 2:18–“Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. ”

There’s kind of two ends of the spectrum we can fall prey to: thinking about faithfulness and acting faithful without faith. Thinking about faithfulness is when we work on having faith in our minds. It’s not true faith though unless it changes the way we live. It’s like identifying a tree by its fruit–someone can tell you all day long that it’s an apple tree, but if it bears cherries, they’re wrong.

Acting faithful without faith is what Jesus called the Pharisees on. They went through the motions of faithfulness without having the substance behind it. There wasn’t love for other or God motivating them–it was all about the outward obedience.

Faith is somewhere in the middle–it’s having the conviction and acting it out. It’s believing that God’s perspective on life is correct, that when He says something, it’s true. With our car and computer issues, it means believing that God really will provide abundantly–regardless of how I feel about the situation or how it appears to me.

So faithfulness is something we can all do even when things are hard or we’re sick or… you get the point. We can all ask God to give us His perspective on things and then act in accordance with that. We can choose to have joy and not to worry. It’s not easy, but, through the power of the Holy Spirit, it’s possible.

What does faithfulness look like in your life?

Blog_ How to Be Faithful

 

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Christian Living

Being a Good Receiver

So how’s everybody’s week been? Mine was…unexpected. In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m kind of a type A person. I like to plan far in advance and then stick with my plans. This whole culture of making plans on a moment by moment basis drives me a little crazy. Don’t get me wrong: I love being able to make spur of the moment plans via everyone’s cell phones but I don’t want to live that way every day.

Anyway! We had plans to be out of town but, because of factors outside of our control, we weren’t. Ironically, I just recently did the lesson in James about holding our plans with an open hand because only God knows what’s actually going to happen tomorrow. As I was grumbling about work stuff and having to reschedule/miss various things, I was reminded that I want to be a good receiver.

What do I mean by being a good receiver? In The Abundance Code, one of the presenters defined being a good receiver as being someone who, when given something, takes it and uses it to become stronger. A bad receiver becomes weaker when they get something–for example, the person who uses money to buy drugs. Less obvious are things like when I handle something with fear or resentment and the situation leads to sin or when God gives us a financial bonus and I put my security in money instead of Him.

I was reminded today that God puts the exact right things in our lives. He doesn’t allow something in His children’s lives if He’s not going to use it for something awesome. As I write this, I’m sitting at my desk, looking out my window at a grey, rainy day. It’s a far cry from the sun and sand I was expecting to see today. But it’s here for a reason. I’m here for a reason. And I have a choice to make: I can continue my grumbling and frustration or I can surrender and trust that God is doing something far more worthwhile than I can imagine.

It’s easy to get thrown when our plans don’t work out the way we want them to/expected them to–but we don’t have to stay thrown. We can move past that stress and into the peace of surrendering the situation to God. We can use those things to draw us closer to God. We can become stronger not just in the midst of stress but because of stress.

Christian Living

Loving Peace

So as I’ve mentioned I’m working my way through Beth Moore’s James study—I really can’t believe it’s been five years since I last did it! Time seriously flies. Anyway, recently I found myself wrestling/praying through these verses:

James 3:17-18 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (NIV)

I want this kind of wisdom. Far too often, I feel like I have no clue how to handle various things in my life. I want God to tell me what the best thing to do is. The bit that hit me was the peace-loving section. Recently, I’ve had a couple people question the distance I have in one of my relationships in particular. Frankly, it’s not a popular decision to cut contact with someone. And, obviously, I’m not recommending anyone do that unless you’re in an abusive situation or you’ve spent a bunch of time praying about it and God gives you some clear direction. And if you haven’t tried to fix the relationship via the Matthew 18 stuff, I’d be hesitant to jump to cutting contact.

So as I’ve been praying about it, I’ve wondered if I’m not being peace-loving. It’s interesting how tempting it is to define peace as an absence of conflict. The advice I’ve been given (and that I think is given far too often in the Church) is to forget what that person did so that the conflict will be over.

One of the things I’m really passionate about is the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is when you let go of what the other person did. You trust that God will take care of the offense and you move on with life. It only involves you and God. It’s about your heart. Reconciliation is when both parties work to fix the relationship by each identifying and acknowledging the wrong they’ve done and working to not do it again.

If someone is not trustworthy, forgiveness doesn’t mean that you trust them. It means that you don’t hang onto the wrong anymore—praise God that through the power of the Holy Spirit we can do this! I love that we have a God who is faithful to right wrongs. I love that we can forgive people and move on with our lives instead of being stuck in the past by our bitterness. God’s way of doing relationships is just so amazing to me.

Anyway, as I was praying about what it means to be peace-loving in this context, something struck me: peace-loving equals loving true peace—not giving into denial or sweeping things under the rug. Peace-loving doesn’t mean an absence of conflict. Real healthy relationships require dealing with the things that actually happen. See, reconciliation is a process that requires both parties to own up to their mistakes and then to become better people—it’s a huge growth process. Being peace-loving means being willing to actually go through that process. Being peace-loving means acknowledging your problems—after all, wisdom from above is first of all pure. Like Jesus says, you can’t help someone with the speck in their eye unless you take the log out of your own first.

I’ve been told that holding out for true reconciliation is actually holding onto bitterness but, after studying this passage (and some others like Matt. 18, 1 Cor. 5 & 2 Cor. 2:5-11), I disagree. In my experience, if you “resolve” the conflict by pretending the problem wasn’t there or by taking all the blame for it, nothing actually gets solved and the conflict comes back up the next time a similar situation happens—probably because neither person is dealing with how they need to change.

Real reconciliation takes two. You can’t reconcile with someone who’s unwilling to deal with the problems. And real reconciliation is the kind of true peace that forces us to grow and leads to righteousness.

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The Benefits of Temptation

I really love going back through familiar passages and learning something new, don’t you? It’s so fun to see something I’ve never noticed before. I’m doing Beth Moore’s James study again, as I’ve mentioned. James is a book I’m pretty familiar with. It’s always good for a kick in the pants when I need it 🙂

Anywho, recently I was struck by James 1:13-18: When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Temptation. It’s something we talk about in the Church. What’s your first thought when you hear that word? I don’t know about you, but my first thought is of something to avoid. Temptation means something enticing that I shouldn’t indulge in.

Totally true, of course. But I think there’s a deeper truth that we’re missing out on. See, temptation isn’t just something to avoid–it’s a window into our souls. Yes, we should definitely not entertain temptation–that’s the allowing ourselves to be enticed–but I think there’s a place for examining our temptations. In her study, Beth Moore quotes Dr. K.A. Richardson, who says that “evil desire” can be translated “deformed desire” (James: Mercy Triumphs, 59). Stop and think about that for a minute–it’s not necessarily an evil desire, it’s a deformed one.

It struck me that a deformed desire implies that there’s something good there that’s been twisted or warped. So when I’m tempted, it’s because there’s something good that I’m trying to achieve or something that could be good if I went about it the right way. For example, lately I’ve been taking a break from reading fan fiction because I realized I’ve been stressed about some things and so I’ve been reading a LOT to try to manage my stress. My desire–to not be stressed–is actually a healthy thing. Stress is there to tell us that something needs to change. Either I’m stressed because I’m handling my life circumstances poorly or there’s something about my life circumstances that I need to work on changing (or, as is often the case for me, both).

So when I’m tempted to excessively escape my life because I’m stressed, I can stop and ask myself what good desire I’m trying to get met. It’s funny because the more I’ve done this, the more I’m seeing that my temptations actually keep me from addressing whatever the real issue is. If I’m escaping into literature because I’m not sleeping, it can keep me from taking time (or having energy) to do the things I need to do during the day to sleep well at night. If I’m yelling at my daughter because I want her to stop fussing, I’m not actually addressing why she’s upset–I’m just trying to stop her from bothering me. And the crazy thing is that if I addressed the good desire behind the temptation, I wouldn’t be tempted in the first place. If I worked on handling stress better and worked on fixing my latest sleep disruption, I wouldn’t need to escape my stress. Make sense?

And the awesome flip-side of this passage is that our God is a God who wants to meet our needs, who delights in giving us gifts that are perfect–as in perfect for me and perfect for you. His grace is individualized to who we are and what’s going on in our life. Pretty sweet!

So there you go. This week try to pay attention to your own temptations. What’s the good desire behind your temptation? How can you be intentional about getting that need met in a healthy way?

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Choosing Joy

So this week I sat down and actually wrote down what my ideal would look like six months from now. I’m trying to make my goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Sensitive)–although some goals are hard to do that with. “Get Healthy” is pretty nebulous 😉

Life is hard, isn’t it? Trying to figure out what I would like changed and what’s realistic to change–it really brings into focus some of the things I’m tired of in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the things I get to do. I never thought I could ever have a life I love this much, especially with my background, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t hard things.

As I’ve told y’all, I’m working my way back through Beth Moore’s James study. It’s really good, in case you haven’t done it yet–I highly recommend doing it! I think most of us in the church are familiar with James 1:2-4: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (NIV)

The thing that I really love about Beth’s study on this passage is that she talks about the choice we have. Joy isn’t something you feel–it’s something you choose. I’ve talked before about how joy is being present in our moments because we believe there’s something good there. The exercise she has you do is to write down three different things you could do with the trials you’re facing and compare where you’d be in five years if you choose something other than joy (anger, bitterness, apathy, despair, etc., etc.) and then to write down where you’d be in five years if you choose joy.

The crazy thing is that even though it is a lot harder to choose joy in the short-term, you get a lot further in the long run. I had an appointment with my doctor last week that was simultaneously encouraging and discouraging. She told me that she’s seen people work on fixing their nutritional deficiencies and then suddenly heal after years of work. It’s something that I’m working on fixing in my own life, and sometimes, I’m just tired of being sick and tired. I’m worn out with trying to be faithful in things that don’t have immediate results.

When I was doing this lesson, that was the first thing I thought of. So, for instance, if I choose despair with my health problems, I would probably give up. I’d stop doing the things that will help long-term because they’re not helping short-term. My stress levels would go up. I’d probably have fallout in my relationship with God. I’d be less able to take care of my kids and to be a true ally to my husband.

Or I could choose bitterness–after all, a lot of these health problems didn’t start with something I chose. And God allowed them. So, I could get bitter, which would make me more toxic, which would make me less healthy (physically and emotionally). And I’d be back to being a poor mother/wife. Plus, I’d most likely be miserable with my life.

But if I choose joy, right off the bat my toxicity levels will be better, even if nothing else changes. I’ll be able to continue being faithful with my health therapies. I have more emotional margin to handle stress, which in turn creates greater margin in other areas of my life. And long-term, I’ll be growing closer to God–because frankly, I don’t see any other way to choose joy without the power of the Holy Spirit.

Anyway, you get the point. If you have time, consider writing out your own scenarios and how they’d play out. Choosing joy may not be the easy thing, but I want the benefits of having my trials produce perseverance and maturity.

 

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Being Rooted and Grounded

I’m still slowly working my way through James. This week James 2:8 really hit me. It’s the “royal law”–“Love your neighbor as yourself.” I spent some time asking myself how I love others, and meditating on how love is the debt we owe to each other (Romans 13:8). I’m woefully inadequate at loving, which is as it should be. We’re not supposed to be able to love by ourselves. The Bible says “God is love” (1 John 4:8), not “humans are love.” We love because He first loved us. We don’t muster up love.

So as I was meditating on how God’s law is a reflection of His character, I realized that a failure to love is a failure to be rooted and grounded in God’s love…it’s a failure to comprehend who He is and how He loves me. I so often focus on the process of mustering up love, or the execution of kindness, rather than meditating on God’s character and how His character plays out in my own life. How does God love me?

Obviously, we can start with the Gospel and how God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). After allowing that to sink into my marrow (and being once again overwhelmed by God’s grace), I spent some time asking God to open my eyes to the ways He shouts His love every day. Some of the things I noticed: Opening my eyes to see beauty in nature. The love that my husband lavishes on me. The precious hugs that my daughters give me. Providing a house to live in that I love. Giving me parking spots, and delicious food, and music, and all the things in my life that make it sparkle. Not coddling me against change–allowing painful things in my life to provide me with an opportunity for change. Speaking to me through His Word, every day. Opening my heart to sense His presence. Really, once I started paying attention, I discovered that His love is impossible to miss.

And that’s where I can start loving others–from a place of fullness and groundedness. Not giving kindness in hopes of filling some longing for love in my heart. Not out of some pharisaical, forced attempt at love. But from being rooted and grounded in God’s love.

Ephesians 3:16-19 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

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A Wide Open Mouth

Psalm 81:10 I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. (NIV)

I’ve been meditating on this verse for the past year or so. It’s one that I have in my verse cards. And as I’m (slowly) working through Beth Moore’s study on James, it came up again. In one of the videos she discussed how faith gains more than it asked and doubt loses more than it had (e.g., Matthew 13:11-12). It’s a terrifying thought. How often do I ask flippantly for something and not even pay attention to the answer? How often do I ask without expectation, without faith?

It’s happened before, but recently I was driving to the store and was in a fair amount of pain. The parking lot seemed full. I groaned out a half-hearted prayer for a close parking spot, and then started looking for a spot about halfway down the aisle. I caught sight of one about 3/4 of the way back and as I drove toward it, I realized I had inadvertently missed an open spot–the one that was second in. Someone else snagged it right away, but it struck a chord.

I so often start looking for an answer less than what God wants to give me. I miss blessings because I’m not praying in faith. I find myself coming to God with my little thimble, rather than opening wide my mouth–praying for the impossible. After all, God is the God of the impossible. Why do I self-edit my prayers, circumscribing them down to what appears easily within reach? In my case, I’ve been convicted that it’s a lack of faith. Happily, unbelief and lack of faith are things God specializes in.

God, please change my heart. Show me what it means to open wide my mouth–to pray for bushel baskets of blessing. Forgive me for my unbelief. Please replace it with faith. Thank You for Your grace in teaching me and continually rescuing me from myself! In Jesus’ Name, amen!