Saturday, February 25, 2017

If It's Up To Me I'm Going To Fail

Hey Friend,

I was recently struggling with an issue about which I desperately needed wisdom.  I know the first part of James 1:5-8

Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.

Okay, I get it....need wisdom...go to God and ask and He will give.  Sounds good.  But then comes the rest of the passage:

But let him ask in faith without doubting.  For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  An indecisive man is unstable in all his ways.  

Uh oh...wait a mean to tell me that God's answer to my question is contingent upon my faith?  But I'm the queen of doubters.  I'm going to get crushed by the monstrous whitecaps of that surging sea.  I can be as indecisive as they get.  To me this spells failure!

Lord, I don't like this part of the verse.  Did you have to put that in there?

Panic stricken and unraveled, I start searching in my mind for scripture.  Key stories and verses I keep in my "Emergency Kit" for times like these.

I am reminded of the time that Christ says to the doubting father who is asking for his son to be healed, "Everything is possible for the one who believes."

The father responds, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"  (Mark 9:22-24)

Whew, I'm not alone.  I can relate to this father.  I believe, but there are so many times that my belief falls short and I cry out, " Lord I do believe, but help the doubting Thomas part of me that falls short."  

The truth is that I cannot create in myself the magnitude of faith that is called for.  No matter how hard I try, I'm just not going to be able to muster it up.  

Okay, that's what I conclude about Wisdom, but what about faith itself??  The passage on wisdom calls for the man to ask with faith without doubting.

So what does the Bible say about my faith?

For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this not on your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  (Ephesians 2: 8-9)

So the faith that I so boldly profess at times.  This is not my own doing?  My faith, itself, is a gift from God?  You got it.  Not even my own faith is my own. When I am tempted to be smug in my faith and knowledge, I am being an arrogant fool because the faith I have is a gift from God so that no one may boast.  And, not only is God the author of my faith, He is the perfecter....He will continue to grow the gift He's graciously given me.

Okay, what about all the fruits of the Spirit - showing kindness, gentleness, compassion, love, forgiveness, patience....

"I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for APART FROM ME YOU CAN DO NOTHING." (emphasis mine)  (John 15-5)

Nothing?  Really?  Okay what about following your decrees Lord.  Surely I can follow your Word?

"And I will put my Spirit in you and move you (cause you to move) to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws."  (Ezekiel 36:27)

Like a lightening bolt, it hits me between the eyes.  If it's all up to me...surely I am going to fail.  TRUE!

But here is the Good News:

"I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me."  (Philippians 4:13)  

In Jesus EVERYTHING is possible! Through Christ moving in me, I can do all things. 

Real discipleship is complete dependence on Christ for everything.  My life, our lives, should be Christ-sufficient and not self-sufficient.  This is the only way to bear fruit as a true disciple.

Also living in complete dependency on Christ requires great humility on our part.  Every day I need to humble myself before Him and acknowledge that apart from Him I can do nothing.  That's a big slice of humble pie!!

Apart from Christ, I do not have the ability to bear fruit.  He supplies EVERYTHING from His abundant fullness.  

So back to that wisdom thing....I am realizing by drawing on the Scriptures that only God can create in me the faith that He deserves.  The faith to follow His wisdom comes from Him, not something I muster up.  

I just need to embrace Him, let Him transform me, abide in Him and watch how He will move in me.  

Dear Heavenly Father,  Forgive me for my arrogance in which I give myself credit for the faith that I have.  Thank YOU for the gift of faith that you have so graciously given me.  I thank you that you don't leave me to fend for myself on my own self-sufficiency.  Help me to humble myself and know that the only way not to fail is to rely and depend on Christ's sufficiency.  Rely and depend are not "bad" words...they are words to truly live by.  Thank you that you realize I am but dust and I need your Spirit to move in me (cause me to move) to follow your decrees.  More of you, Lord and less of me.  Thank you for all the gifts you give me on a daily basis.  May I live my life to give you the credit and the glory.  In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

Be blessed,
ps.  There have been three separate bombings near our school in the Middle East.  The children are afraid and frightened by all of this.  I can't even fathom the fear that they must live through each and every day.  

Would you please pray for our school, the children, the teachers and staff that God would place a hedge of protection around them and keep them safe.  And, that he would give them a sense of His abiding peace and comfort.  

If you would like to help financially, we could really use your support as we have been harboring more children to keep them safe.

Friday, February 10, 2017

True Hope For The Perfectionist

Hey Friend,

Recently I found my heart resonating with a piece by Mallory Manning, writer and blogger.  She was talking about perfectionism - something that I thought I had licked. What I've learned is that our nemesis may not go away that easily, but there truly is hope.  

Mallory writes:

"I feel like I can't uphold my end of the deal."

What deal did I make?  Who was involved in this deal that I don't even remember making?

Me, I make deals with myself all the time.  I will be punctual.  I will remember to send birthday cards.  I won't let anyone down.

In some form, things like maintaining our commitments and celebrating others reflects the loyalty and intentionality of Christ.  But instead of honoring God with my reliability, I often desire to meet expectations to maintain my image and prevent others' judgments.  So I make deals with myself, shaking hands with perfectionism.

But you know one truth I'm continually learning?  I will never be able to uphold my end of the deal and that's precisely the point.

I found some of Mallory's points to be spot on.  You see, as a member of "Perfectionists Anonymous", I get this.  Having spent a good part of my life trying to earn what was already mine through Christ, I know what a trap perfectionism an be.  

Christ died not so that we would "owe Him something" through our actions, but so that we could walk in FREEDOM.

Let me say it a different way...Christ died to set us free.  Being a perfectionist = being a prisoner.

One other thing that my perfectionistic ways uncovered was a nasty little stumbling block called "pride".  Funny how pride is often at the root of so many of our problems?!

By my continual striving and attempts to earn my salvation, I was in essence saying that what Christ did was not enough - that I still needed to do something above and beyond what He did.  That's pride.  When Christ sacrificially breathed out those last words, "It is finished,"  He meant it was complete.  

There is nothing more for us to do, but to walk in the freedom for which He laid down His life.

I have found a scripture that is like a soothing balm to the struggling perfectionist who wants to leave those ways behind and walk in the freedom that Christ intended.  It is found, interestingly enough, in this well known segment of scripture...

"Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy and My burden is light."  (Matthew 11:28-29)

Usually we associate these verses with someone who is going through a rough time, is weary, and needs the rest that only Christ can provide.  This may be true, but the real gist of Jesus' words here are this:

If you are weary and burdened by living under the weight of the Old Covenant, with its legalism and its laws, come to me because I can give you rest.  There is a new way of living.

If you are tired of living under the judging eye of others, let God be the judge and if you have accepted Christ, you are perfect in His eyes.  Human evaluations no longer matter.

Perfectionism, by the way, is weighted down by legalism and laws - a kind of get it right or else attitude.

Jesus bids us lovingly, "take up my yoke (the New Covenant that is based on grace and not on merit) and learn from me."  

Unlike the heavy yoke of the law that we continue to fall and stumble beneath, Jesus gives us a new, lighter yoke, of the New Covenant of grace and forgiveness.

"Because I am gentle and humble in heart and, In me, you will find rest for yourselves."  

No more having to make deals with ourselves because we feel like we will disappoint God or disappoint others.  Jesus is gentle and humble...He doesn't make deals.

"For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

If you feel like you are continually struggling under a heavy burden to "get it right or else", chances are you are wearing the wrong yoke.  I get like this sometimes - so frustrated with letting myself down, others down, God down.

That's when my dear husband looks me square in the eye and says, "Bev, you don't have to be perfect."

That is my reminder to set aside the pride I have unwittingly picked back up and put on.  That's my cue to lift off the heavy yoke of the Old Covenant- with all its burdens and laws and slip into the light yoke of Jesus - the one that says...

"It's finished.  There's nothing more for you to do.  I did it all.  Now go and walk in the freedom that I've paid the price for."

Do you struggle with perfectionism?  Do you ever feel like you are held to a higher standard than everyone else?  Do you find it hard to be easy on yourself? What's preventing you from taking in the freeing Truth of Jesus' words?

Dear Heavenly Father, Forgive me for the pride that says that I can do this on my own - that somehow I can earn your love and my salvation. Help me to take in the Truth that there is NO SUCH THING AS PERFECT unless it is me being seen by You through the blood of Jesus.  That is the one and only way.  Help me not to continually stumble beneath a heavy yoke of laws, legalism, and perfectionism.  Enable me to live in freedom under the yoke of your New Covenant.  You died so that I could dance....let me dance in freedom knowing I am loved by you no matter what because you paid the price for my mistakes.  Let me strive less and abide and rest more in You.  Thank you Lord and it's in Your name I pray, Amen.

Be blessed...

ps.  Come and check out some of the new news and happenings with Redeemer Christian Foundation, Inc.  See the faces of lives that are being transformed because they too are living under the freedom of the New Covenant!!  

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Craving Connection 2 - A Journey Through Life's Seasons

Hey Friend,

Given the response and the comments I've received on my previous post, I am revisiting this topic of Craving Connection.  

We were made, by God, to be in relationship. First and foremost is our relationship with God.  After that, God has put in us a desire for relationship with a partner in life and with friends of all ages, races, and nationalities.  It's just the way we are wired.  

When those connections aren't made it can make us heartsick.  Yes, ultimately, Christ is all sufficient for us and I have found there have been seasons when God needed to remove everyone from my life so that He could have my undivided attention.

I also know, that the enemy prowls about, seeking to isolate us and destroy us. Just like a lion in the wild will try to isolate a week member of the herd, the enemy does the same thing with us.  If he can get us alone, he has a better chance of his lies sinking in and his message of despair and hopelessness finding a home in a hurting heart.  

Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  (1 Peter 5:8)

That is why it is not a luxury or the cherry on top to have friends and connections, it's essential.  Now that I've said that, I will admit that making connections - extending my hand in friendship is not always easy.  Ask me to walk into a room full of people I don't know and my hands will begin to get sweaty; my blood pressure will rise; and thanks to this anxiety disorder I have, I have even been known to have panic attacks and have felt a need to flee the room.

I'm much better at one on one encounters, but to get to one on one, sometimes you have to walk into the full room - if you know what I mean.

I remember, in college, not knowing anyone on my floor.  I kind of sat back and did a study of people and tried to get a "pulse" on what made certain people tick.  I believe we are attracted to like minded individuals, so when I watched Christine from afar, I thought, perhaps, this is someone I would like to get to know.  Enter the hard part...going down to her room and introducing myself. That's right.  If there's one thing I've learned is that if I'm going to have  a friend, I can't wait for her to come to me...I have to go to her.  

I remember introducing myself and asking if I could join her for dinner in the cafeteria that night.  Thankfully she said "yes".  Thus started a long friendship. We were both looking for friendship, so we ended up joining the same sorority and wound up as roommates.  So that was a success story.  

I have extended my hand in friendship to others only to be rejected or at least the friendship not reciprocated.  I've had to learn, albeit the hard way, that this is the price you pay for finding kindred spirits.  It doesn't mean you are a loser, it just means you haven't found the right friend yet.

When I was young and newly married, I easily found friendships through work and with neighbors in the townhouses in which we lived.  Besides, I was a young newlywed so friendships were great, but not something on which I depended.

Enter the season in life, however, when with a newborn baby (my first), I found myself relocated to the Mid West, in a town where I knew no one, in January, amidst one of their nastiest winters.  This is when depression greeted me for the first time.  I was like a sitting duck for the enemy.  My hormones were everywhere.  I had experienced several major life stresses at once, and basically I was a mess.

I prayed earnestly to God for friendships.  I knew I needed a lifeline.  I needed others I could ask questions about how I was to raise this little person who demanded all my time and didn't come with instructions.  

Enter my neighbor, who though she had older children, had a friend who was the coordinator of a group called MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers).  The nice Welcome Wagon lady also came to my door and invited me to the Newcomers meetings.  Sweaty palms, racing heart, fussy baby and all, I mustered all I had and went.  

One thing my mother told me has always stuck with me...ask people questions about themselves.  A good conversationalist asks lots of questions.  No one likes a person who goes on and on about themselves ad nauseam.

To say that Newcomers and MOPS, especially, were lifesavers for me, would be an understatement.  For women with children birth - 5 years of age (even if you have older children but still have one in this age group you are welcome). Through two more moves MOPS became my gateway to connection.  I found Christian women who were real, like me, and also were craving connection and some adult conversation.

When I moved to NC and my children were 4 and 9 I was moving out of the preschool set and I found myself thrown back in time to college days.  I was going to have to observe and seek out someone with whom I could relate. Fortunately many of us were newcomers in our neighborhood.  I thank God for the one woman who had the gift of hospitality and she invited all of us new folk to her house for coffee.  

That's where I met Claire.  I can't exactly remember who extended the hand first, but we've been close friends for 20 years.  She recently moved to Florida, however, and I'll say losing close connection with friends is a grieving process unto itself.  

I will say that finding a church where you feel at home is also crucial.  That is one of the first things I seek out - I'm like a heat seeking missile when it comes to that.  It may take time, but a church is a gateway to Bible studies, small groups, and other forms of community.

Slowly, over time, I built a comfortable circle of friends.  All was good.  Life was fitting like that old shoe except for my marriage which suddenly ended one day when my husband simply up and left.  To say my world was turned on its head (again) would be an understatement.  Divorce, by far, is one of the hardest things I've ever gone through.  Single parenting is downright HARD!!  

I also found that some friends that we had as a couple disappeared into the woodwork.  Other married friends were busy with their families and weekends became a lonely nightmare.  

Here I was back to square one again... having to seek out like minded and similarly situated individuals.  

I have discovered that God will put people in my path, but it is up to me to take that scary step of extending my hand in friendship.

Sweaty palmed and anxious, I ventured into building connections with three other separated and divorced women.  We became what we called, "The Perseverance Posse".  If there was ever a time I needed friendship, this was it. I really relied on these women and my married friends who stuck with me.  I would have never made it through had I not had these women in my life.  I thank God for them all the time.

So here I am now, an empty-nester who runs a non-profit ministry from home. I am by myself most of the day, except for the company of my trusty beagle, Topper. I can be a bit of a loner, at times, so I don't mind being alone.  In fact I rather enjoy it, but how much alone time is good?  How much is dangerous?

Thankfully I am remarried to a wonderful, godly man, but I still crave connection with other women.  It's harder to make coffee dates and such so I have found an on line community of women through a Christian group called (in)courage.  

The wonderful group of writers at (in)courage put out a daily blog/devotion that I read and comment on religiously.  

They have also just released a wonderful book called, not surprisingly, "Craving Connection".  Each short chapter written by a different writer includes ways to build connection, avenues to join and have community, and opportunities to engage with others and ....yes, even some challenges.

I invite you to join us (yes, I'll be there) starting on FEB. 7th as we will go through 5 weeks of short chapters and challenges.  I am hoping to find some new, fresh, creative ways to make connections.

As I've tried to point out here, craving and building connection is a lifelong journey.  It may look different in the changing seasons of our lives, but the necessity and even the command by God remains.  

Will you join us?  I really hope so!!  

And now the winner of my giveaway drawing for a free copy of "Craving Connection":
Dawn B. - Woohoo!

If you didn't win, please pick up a copy at your favorite bookseller and join us, won't you?  We were not meant to be islands unto ourselves, so lets roll up our sleeves and dig in together shall we?

I will be praying for you as you are brave in building connection.  I hope you will find connection here at my blog as well.  All who are real, honest, and not afraid to be a little vulnerable are welcome...

Be blessed...