Sunday, October 4, 2009

Beginning to Understand

"Sin? Me? No, not often, not in a 'bad' way anyway. I am a 'good' person after all." That is what I normally think, and that is why, in my "heart of hearts," I am jaded to the wonder of the cross. I don’t think I’m all that bad. When a youth group of the church that I attended in my hometown asked random people in a coffee shop if they thought they were a “good person,” almost everyone said yes, with a few people that identified themselves as Christians saying “no.” If we think we are good, then we have no need for a savior and Jesus doesn’t make sense. At most you might think it is noble of him to sacrifice himself for others, offering himself as the perfect atonement for everyone’s sins since he led a sinless, perfect life. You might tip your hat to that, say “thank you kindly sir” and be on your way. I’m guilty of it. I’ve known it for a while. I can praise and thank God for my life and the people in it, I can praise him for each breath he gives me and I have no problem doing it sincerely. What I can’t do is begin to understand the greatest gift God has given me in my salvation until I understand the gravity of my sin (and the sin of humanity in general).

The other night I saw the movie “The Green Mile” for first time and wow did it move me. I couldn’t go to sleep that night because my mind was still whirling from the movie. In the movie, the character of John Cauphy (not sure if I’m spelling the last name right, all I know is that it is “like the drink, only spelled different”) is on death row accused of raping and murdering two little girls, however (Spoiler!) he is wrongfully accused. John is blessed, or perhaps cursed is a better word, with two amazing gifts: he can heal people by momentarily taking the sickness/evil upon himself and suffering before “coughing” it up, and he can also see into people’s hearts and know what they’ve done. The movie does a great job portraying the wickedness that exists in man and when John says he has had enough of this world you understand why. When Tom Hank’s character (the death row guard) asks John Couphy if he should let him escape or proceed with the execution, John says he will be executed and he is ok with it, in fact it would come as a relief to him. You get the sense that John is a lot older than he appears to be, and the hurts and pains caused by evil that he has witnessed and taken upon himself grieves him terribly and has worn him down. It is when John explains the pain that other humans have caused that I began to understand my own sin and the necessity of Jesus. Jesus too was wrongfully accused. Jesus too died in place of other peoples’ sins. Jesus bears the hurt in pain of everyone as a compassionate and loving God. Jesus, as the Living Word, has been around for eternity and has seen more injustices and felt more pain than we can imagine.

The thing that I realized is that I, as a sinner, hurt Jesus too. Whenever I sin I rarely only hurt myself. Is it possible to sin and only hurt yourself? Often I will hurt others with my pride, by being judgmental, by being bitter, with my selfishness, etc. I am so guilty. Even though I may not have physically committed a terrible crime in the world’s eyes, like murder, there have been times when I’ve been so angry and frustrated I have thought some terrible things in my fit of rage. In the Bible, Jesus says that thinking things is just as condemnable as doing them. (Matthew 5). The Bible also makes it clear that your sin is not relative to other people’s sins. For example, I might think that I am not that bad of a sinner because I have never done anything thing “really bad” like murder, stealing, adultery, etc. but that would be comparing my sins to other people’s sins and you can always find someone who is “worse.” Instead, our sins are relative to God’s holiness, which thus makes every sin about the same in severity because the amount that they are separated from God is infinitely farther then they are separated from themselves (if they are indeed separated). When we understand just how far we are from God’s holiness, then we can understand more of God’s love and what an amazing thing Jesus did for us on the cross. How do we understand the difference between God and ourselves? Study the Bible. The more I read the Bible/the Word of God/what Jesus personified, the more I see my own flaws. It isn’t fun always, but it does bring me closer to God, humbles me, and allows me to praise God even more.

If you can’t see your own sin, deny it, make excuses for it, then you are deceiving yourself, as well as harming yourself (though you may be too stubborn to realize it). “5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” 1 John 1:5-10

With confession comes healing. With the beginnings of understanding the cross, comes the start of a great adventure--with a happy ending. ;)

1 Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-

3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,

5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

6 The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.

7 He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel:

8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.

9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;

10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;

14 for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field;

16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.

17 But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children-

18 with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

19 The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word.

21 Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will.

22 Praise the LORD, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the LORD, O my soul.”

(Psalm 103)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


WOW! Praise God! Praise His holy name! My friend in Tanzania (Casey) who I had the vision about (see the posts titles "Peace" and "Encourage") just sent out an email telling the amazing things that God has been doing in Tanzania through her and others! Continue reading below to read parts of her latest update . . . and be encouraged! ;) Note: I put the last part of her letter first and the first part after it for those of you who want to know more about God working in Tanzania and Casey's life there. I have kept her letter exactly how she wrote it. Please pray for these people and for Casey.

Now I can share my favorite story from our time in the village: GOD’S HEALING POWER! During my door to door with Oscar, my translator, we met an old man weaving baskets in the shade. We started talking to him and found out he was a Christian. So I asked if we could pray for him and he said, “Yes, please pray for my son, he is crazy, but he’s all I have left to take care of me.” When he called his son no one came. Then we went to the garden and found what looked like a 15 year old boy playing in the dirt. He wouldn’t answer me when I greeted him. He wouldn’t talk to anyone actually. He was to our eyes mentally handicapped. I was immediately reminded of the scriptures where they brought a sick boy before Jesus who had seizures and people presumed he was medically ill, but Jesus cast a demon out of him. So, I prayed in Jesus name for evil to leave this son. I just prayed for him to be healed. But nothing happened then so we finished talking and moved on. When I left the mother came home and told her son to go to the church again to get prayed for. So the next day he came and all of the team and I prayed for him. Again nothing big happened. I decided the next day after that to visit them again. The father said to me right away when I saw him that he was so grateful because his son was HEALED. I didn’t know if it was for real so I asked to see the boy. He was resting so they awoke him and brought him out. He immediately greeted me and my jaw almost dropped. It was a surreal moment. I knew that only one day ago this boy was crazy and not comprehensive. He had been that way for many years. And now I stood looking at a different person. The father said, “Now he is helping me and he acts like a human, thank you”. I praised God. The mama was there and asked us to pray again because she was very tired and having bad dreams at night. I told her how many times headaches and tiredness come from not drinking water since they hardly drink any and then I talked about dreams. I told her how many times satan tries to attack us or scare us in our dreams. But she simply needs to plead the blood of Jesus over her mind and over her house and read scriptures before she goes to bed. Then I wondered if they had ever gotten involved with any witchcraft because that could be the cause if they have any of that still in their house. It’s like an open door to demons to come. They said no, but that they used to be Muslim and killed a goat once for witchcraft purposes, but nothing else since they became Christians. I told them to renounce any evil they had been involved with so there would be no connections. When we held hands to pray I just prayed in English with them. As I was praying and renouncing evil in Jesus’ powerful name, I felt a hand shake a little. So, I opened my eyes and saw the mama was twitching and shaking for a moment. After we finished praying she told me that sometime while I was praying she felt like spirits were leaving! Hallelujah! Here is a picture of our team praying for the boy who was healed and the family and I after he was healed.

The team and I were really excited and we saw such a huge change. We gave the boy a bible and found out that he was 19 or 20 (they don’t remember). Then we found out his name was Monewa which means the oppressed one or one who people throw stones at and is defenseless. So, I told the parents he needs a new name. See, the family had 9 children and 8 of them had died from sicknesses. He was the only child left. I was so sad at his name, but I prayed and felt like God wanted to bless this son of his, that this would be the year of God’s favor and blessing on them. And the family renamed the son Imani, which means faith! Please pray for this family. They have special place in my heart. They need help physically, financially, and spiritually. I noticed the father’s knee bent backwards when he walked. It was hard to look at but he never asked for prayer for it, just for his son. Even now, if you have 30 seconds, pray for this family, pray for this village, pray that Jesus touches their lives. Pray that their eyes would be opened to see the truth. Pray for the Muslim community. Many of them just believe in Allah because that is what their families knew, they never questioned what they believed or tried to find out for themselves the truth. In talking with them they have many similar beliefs but I tell them the reason they need Jesus. They have no atonement for their sins. And ALL have sinned. There is no sacrifice that will do except the blood of the Holy One who never sinned. See, even here people kill goats or drink the blood of people because they think it atones for their sins. But the blood of animals does nothing for humans and even the blood of humans cannot cleanse us because all have sinned, except one. His name is Jesus. He is the perfect sacrifice, “once for all” –Hebrews 10:10.

*If you are unfamiliar with demons (a.k.a. evil spirits) check out what I've written at the bottom of this post.

The first part:

Note: I havn't included all of the pictures Casey mentions, but other than that I chose to keep her letter exactly how she typed it. I did put a few words in bold though.

There were nine people on this team from California and we kept them busy. The picture is of the Knepper’s, the Ramsey’s, I and the team. The first few days we had different activities planned such as experiencing the “Day in the Life” of a Tanzanian. The women caught, killed, plucked, and cooked chickens for the men who were pouring rock all day long for 2,000 shillings, or two dollars. On Sunday we visited five different churches in town where they were able to preach. The people here love guest speakers so they made all of us preach. They don’t mind sitting through 3 sermons, no one is checking their watch when we run over time. I also took the team to kids club in Kamala and Ujiji, villages very close to Kigoma. The taught and played with around 400 kids. Ujiji is known for its high witchcraft and Muslim population. We know we have to be careful while we are there. They have thrown rocks at us before. We don’t have a building to teach in either. All of the kids just gather in someone’s yard. While two of the Tanzanian kid’s club leaders were teaching two Tanzanian mamas walked by. One woman said to the other, “If I found my son here I would beat him”. Pray for the Christians in this village. We told them how much they encouraged us and went home. Next we went to a village called Igalula. To the left is a picture from the helicopter. But, sadly we didn’t take a helicopter to this village. We took an 18 hour boat ride, an experience I will remember forever. On this small boat there were 200 people, 50 oil drums, chickens, bags of rice, and our team. First, to get on the boat you have to ride a little dingy out to it and sort of jump onto the bigger boat. It is scary as the waves are crashing and people are handing up babies and bags for you to catch so they can jump on. It was very very packed on the boat. We left Kigoma at 7 pm and it soon became dark. I tried to find a place to sleep but I had to step over mamas and babies in the dark to find a little nook. Tons of mamas and babies down in the hull sat on top of the drums but in the middle of the night the men stopped at many villages along the lake and dropped off a few oil drums. So we awoke every hour or so to move out some oil drums. I felt like a human-tetris-piece sleeping on top of luggage and people. The babies and mamas just went to the bathroom down in the hull since it was an 18 hour journey and there was no toilet. So the smell or urine filled the air. Along with that was the smell of vomit of some of the people who didn’t scale the side of the boat soon enough to throw up overboard. During the night a fisherman was sleeping on a skinny board lying across the hull and he fell off landing on top of me. Luckily a tarp draped across the beams partially caught his fall before landing on me and the people beside me. I was fine and we made it to the village finally where we all crashed and fell asleep, still feeling the waves rocking us. Thank God we finally got to these people. The picture on the left is us taking the dingy out to the bigger boat. The picture on the right is the morning after our 18 hour boat ride. I’m somewhere down in the mess of luggage.

In this village we did many kids clubs as they flocked to us. We also got to teach kids club leaders how to lead their own kids clubs in their villages. The picture to the left is just a pack of kids that followed us that day.

We also got to do medical ministry with our doctor. Below is a picture of the line of people waiting to see the doctor. He was able to see about 120 patients everyday for 5 days. People would start forming a line at 5 am just to see Doctor Len who comes at 9am after morning devotions, worship, and chai. The team and I would also hike everyday to more remote villages surrounding Igalula. Sometimes we hiked two hours to get to our destination, preached and did door to door, then hiked two hours back. But their was so much fruit. I really enjoyed talking to many people outside their house about my love for Jesus. “For the love of Christ compels us…” –2 Corinthians5:14.

I even got to sit down with a group of Muslim men and tell them that I loved them and that Jesus loves them as we sipped some coffee. We had some pretty interesting conversations. And many people gave their lives to Christ. We brought around 50 bibles to the village. The problem is they still need so much more. Many Christians there will go their whole lives without bibles. Even pastors and leaders in the church don’t have bibles. So, they always remind us to bring bibles with us when we visit. And they cherish the Word. When we gave a bible to a Muslim man who heard about Jesus he sucked it into his chest and held it against his heart, thanking us. It was so cool to see. Please pray for the Word of God to spread in this place. I
got to talk with a man named Fanwel and Imanuel about Jesus. They still weren’t sure if they believed the whole Jesus story so I continued to visit them. Finally one day Fanwel told me he was ready to receive Jesus, so he and his wife prayed with me. Pray for him too. I’ll never forget his beautiful smile.

Above are some mamas we met on our walk. Left is a creek we had to cross to get to the villages Rukoma and Buhingu to preach. I am standing with my friend and translator Rashidi.

At night we were able to bring a small generator and projector to show the movies: Passion of the Christ, Jesus film, Muslim testimonies of dreams of Jesus, and a testimony of AIDS. It was so amazing to see 300 people come out to stand for two hours and watch these films. They have never seen a TV in their life, let alone a big screen movie of the Passion. Here is a picture of Harold and Gabriel the translator leading people in prayer. Many many people prayed to receive Jesus that night as Gabriel translated. Thank God! Pleasepray that they will get connected to a church and continue to learn about Jesus. These villages were “spiritual warzones”. We would hear drums beating at night in the distance as we lay in our tents. These were drums the fishermen would beat at night. They like to use witchcraft to help them catch fish and they were calling the spirits to come. Then we would wake up in the middle of the night to the Mosque’s call to prayer. Also, many homes in the village have a tiny little grass hut in the backyard. These are supposedly homes for their spirits to live. Needless to say we prayed a lot, and God moved powerfully. Then Casey continued to write what I've posted above.

Please pray for these people in Tanzania and pray for Casey and her team there too. As Casey says, "God bless you! Mungu awabariki wote!"

*In the Bible Jesus deals with demons on numerous occasions. To read about these check out Matthew 9:32-33, 4:24, 8:16, 8:28-34, 12:22-29, 15:22-28, 17:14-18, Mark 1:32-34, hmm, here's a good one Mark 16:17, and etc. etc. If you're still curious go to and type "demon" in the top search box (you'll get 80 results in the NIV translation). I also want to note that demons are definitely still around today in the USA and all around the world. I could go on for awhile about that and it's too much to explain here right now so if you want to know more just ask.
May God be with you,

Monday, September 7, 2009


Recently I have been learning a lot about the power of encouragement. I am also learning that I don't do near enough of it. My parents might tell you that I did plenty of nagging, trying to self-righteously push them to do things that I thought they should do, but that is not encouragement! Encouragement can come in many different forms though. At summer camp as a kid, I remember doing this thing where everyone would have a paper lunch bag with their name on it and you would write down "warm fuzzies" (compliments, nice things) about everyone on a scrap of paper and put it in their bag. I loved to read mine, I especially treasured the ones that happened to reassure me in an area where I doubted myself the most. Recently, I've seen encouragement in monster cookies sent to a friend competing in an Iron Man (2.5 mile swim, 115 bike, and then a 26.2 mile run--I'm not sure if I have the bike distance right but it's long!), a (second) thank you note a year after the event to a pastor, and the vision I shared in my last post gave great, and perfectly timed, encouragement to that friend.

For whatever reason, I normally don't give that much credit to encouragement and perhaps that is why I don't do it as often as I ought. However, the three recent forms of encouragement described above meant more than I could have ever supposed to the people who received it! I too have been encouraged recently. I performed in some skits at church and afterwards many people encouraged me by telling me that I did a great job. It's a small thing to me tell me that, but to me it meant so much! And you know that perfect timing of the encouraging vision I had? Well, that definitely encouraged me to know that God's totally working. It also reinforced that God has chosen us to do his work. He could have encouraged my friend himself, but instead he chose to work through me. Often God's method of choice is to work through us instead of doing everything himself. In fact, I think because he worked through me, the encouragement my friend received was greater because God was glorified even more and we were both encouraged by it.

As you can see from these different examples encouragement can be many different things, big or small, but they all bless people and give them strength. It is so important that we encourage one another. You see God's people encouraging each other throughout the Bible. Hebrews 3:13 "But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." It is important that we encourage because the world is hard and the devil is always on the attack. Add into that the fact that God usually choses us as his method to spread the good news of salvation and you really find need for encouragement. I often either feel inadequate/unworthy to spread the gospel or I'll be selfish and forget (yikes!) about others. Either way, I would benefit from someone practicing 2 Timothy 4:2 on me, "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction."

So let us encourage one another with the same purpose as Paul, "My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ" (Colossians 2:2). Finally, let us not forget that we already have eternal encouragement from the promise that we will one day be reunited with God where love reigns and there is no more evil or pain. "May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word." 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (emphasis added).

Monday, August 24, 2009

I was reading this devotional online and I found this comment on the devotional to be very interesting and, I believe, true. I post it for you to reflect on. Here it is:

Steve Faris
August 22, 2009 10:20 AM
Enjoyed this Aaron. And then going the next step you suggest of the challenge to "Run to Jesus", can be a real dagger, and I believe is, for many us who confused running to the religion of Christianity versus Jesus. One runs to the things surrounding Jesus (religion) and not Him (relationship), ends up in a worse situation than before. Trying to substitute one form of sedative (accomplishments, thrill, numbing of pain, etc) with another sedative (religious activity, ritual, traditions, cultural interpretations of Christ, etc) only serves to scream to us of worthlessness and emptiness. And how easy that is to confuse. The more I seek Jesus himself, the more I am both at peace and challenged - and it is all good. The more I seek things claiming to represent Him, the more I am frustrated and disheartened - and even more so inclined to wonder what life is all worth. Thnx for your words and they are a reminder this morning to run to Him alone, and not the things that are man made images of him. Appreciate your efforts amidst his body to point people to the living and satisfying Bread.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


I went on a run tonight and it was so peaceful.  The sun had set, the sky was a vast, deep blue with just a bit of light blue, and a strip of pink leftover from the sunset to the west.  I praised God for his majesty, his greatness.  I prayed for friends that are his faithful servants as they bear witness to him around the globe.  As I did this, an image came to mind; it was almost as if they were floating on an invisible cloud in the big, velvet sky.   They were in his presence, only God and them, and He was smiling at them, adoring and proud, protecting and loving.  Just like a father.  With this image I was filled with such peace -- I still feel it now!  It's like I'm in a cloud of warmth and love, with nothing to fear.  With this peace, I knew that my friends were well, and well loved, and I understood a little bit more about how Christian martyrs can often be completely peaceful when they are tortured or executed.  Sorry to be blunt, but it's something I've always wondered about.  You see, at that moment on my run with that image in my head, I was home, I was at ease, I felt such great comfort and love.  I praise God for giving me the gift of my faith, however small it may be at times.  I know I have nothing to fear and tonight, unlike so many others who are lost, confused, abandoned, and frustrated, I fear nothing.  PRAISE GOD!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Run the Race

My husband has told me several times that he thinks I would have made a “great” cross-country runner because he thinks I have the right build.  I have always replied that I may have the build, but that doesn’t mean that I would be any good!  I need to be stronger, have greater endurance, and more heart to push myself onward when I feel like I can’t. 

I have never considered myself much of a runner.  My runs are usually a little more than one mile, and my ‘long” runs never go much more than two miles.  Besides Scott, other people have also thought that I should be a better runner than I actually am, even assuming that I could “easily run six miles’.  I have to reply that I absolutely can not run six miles, much less three miles thank you very much! 

Well, last Sunday, excited and a little nervous about how my body would respond, I decided to try a 3 mile run (I believe it was actually a little over three miles), because I knew they were right.  I could run three miles, maybe even six with a well rested body and lots of adrenaline.  It was time for me to stop being content with comfortable, and instead, push myself to start reaching my potential.  Running the 3+ miles was hard work, and I had to give myself plenty of encouragement along the way, but I did it--with a little bit of help and encouragement from God too!  

About two thirds of the way through the run I had an epiphany: as a Christian I am also supposed to be running a great race that requires perseverance.  Hebrews 12:1 says “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” What is necessary for perseverance? Suffering.  Paul says, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4).  It is the same as a long run when you feel your body aching and fatigued asking you to quit, but you must press on and persevere. For by doing so, and not taking the easy way out and quitting, you do develop great character and strength and find that, yes, you can indeed do it.  From this realization of course comes hope, and hope is a great and powerful thing.  As I finished my last third of my run I told God that I was willing to run His race and follow His course and I knew that no matter what happened, God would not forsake me. “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Duet. 31:8) 

As I told God that I trusted him and knew that he would provide for me whatever I need to get through the toughest times of the “race”, it started to sprinkle!  Light, refreshing, cool drops of rain encouraged me onward, pushing me towards the finish.  I rejoiced and praised God for this simple, but beautiful and perfect gift! I think this was God saying “Yes, Whitney, I will be here for you always and give you what you need, never fear.”  In the same way he will give us exactly what we need when we need it, encouraging us until we reach the Finish and our eternal Home.

What is this “race”?  It is throwing off anything that hinders us or causes us to sin; it is living a righteous life, striving after what is holy, and blameless and pure. It is choosing God’s plan over our own comfort.  1 Corinthians 9:25-27 says, “25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”  Paul explains that he “beats his body” in order to discipline himself to do what is right.  To overcome sin in our lives, especially habitual sin, we can’t play nice with it.  Sin needs to be destroyed, and to do that we may need to continually remind and discipline ourselves to overcome those sins.  This is not easy, and this may not come without pain.  For me, I need to constantly reprimand myself for choosing my way over God’s way, for considering myself better than others, and for judging the very people that Jesus came to save (Luke 4:17-19), just to name a few. 

We are not only called to run this race, but to win it. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24).  Just as you can’t win a foot race by only running select parts of it and sauntering through others, you also can’t win our life race by choosing to only eliminate certain sins, or choosing to follow God only so far, but no further because “that’s just crazy” and “he might ask too much.”  That’s a lie!  He will never ask “too much,” he gave Moses what he needed to free the Israelites, he gave me the rain to finish my run, and he’ll give you what you need. (Matthew 6:30, 8:26, 14:30-32, 16:8-9)

If it is not fear that stops us from running the race then it is comfort. Many times we only “run the race” when we feel like it--which really isn’t being in a race at all!  We use the same excuses as I did as to why I “couldn’t” go on a long run; we’re not strong enough, we don’t have the endurance, and we just plain lack the will.  Running the race could get uncomfortable after all, and we like being comfortable!  When God calls us to step out in faith and trust him and take a “risk”, we often recoil and tell him “no thanks, that would make me uncomfortable and I wouldn’t want me to be uncomfortable, would you?”  Well, if making us uncomfortable forces us to trust him alone, focuses our attention on him, draws us closer to him, reveals his glory, refines us (thereby shaping us into a righteous man/woman after his own heart), and causes us to have greater faith as he provides in a way that only He can, then, yes, he might want to shake things up a bit in our lives.

So let us trust in God.  He has great plans for us if we would only run the race to win it.  Don’t let fellow man put you, or God, in a box. “ Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:22).  Why should man determine what you can and cannot do?  After all, it is the Lord who reigns, not man, so let us trust in him only.

Just as in life when you push yourself to your limits physically, or in any other area of life, where you sacrifice, have to persevere, and break through limits, it is so rewarding when you finish the race.  Your perseverance pays off and you are thrilled and proud because you actually did it! You pushed through and you accomplished something great. It is the same when you run your spiritual race.  There will be hard times where you need to really push yourself to keep going and stay focused, but the end result is more than just a sense of accomplishment.  Romans 8:18 says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” 2 Corinthians 4:17 says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”  The race is tough yes, Jesus tells us it will be, but it is more rewarding to run it and run it full out knowing that you have done your best.  So let us do it, make the decision, no more excuses, and no more fear.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Being fake

Satan is the master deceiver, but I would say I’m pretty darn good at deceiving myself too!  I like to be “good”, I like everything to be ok, and I really like to be right. Because of this, when I pray and present myself before God, I often only “reveal” surface level things about me and my life at that moment.  I’m Whitney after all, and I’m “good.”  Help!  How pathetic is that? 

 God already knows every intimate detail about me, who am I fooling?  Only myself.  God is our heavenly loving Father, he wants us to seek him (Deut. 4:29), to love him (Deut. 6:5), to cast all our burdens on him (Mat. 11:28-30), and to be friends with him (John 15:15). If I do not choose to be intimate with God, then God becomes a “Force” whom I either view to be manipulated, or to be displeased with me.  When he’s a “Force”, I falsely seek to please Him. It is false, because I don’t seek to please out of love for God or to bring Him glory.  In my twisted mind I think if I just do “enough” to keep God happy and keep some imaginary “good” classification before God, then everything is ok.*  But this is not ok!  When I do this I am being completely fake! In order to have a fully enriching and fruitful relationship with God, I need him to be my closest friend.  I need to do all the things I normally do with my closest friends: not be fake for starters, spend time with God, trust him, respect him, communicate (not just me talking all the time, but actually taking time to listen to him), not be controlling, not be duplicitous (Matthew 6:24), and even going through trials together which bring us closer.

When I take down my defenses and get real with God, I discover great freedom.  I find Proverbs 28:13 to be so true, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”  When I confess my sin, bluntly tell God my frustrations,** let him take my burdens, trust him with my future, seek him alone, and listen to him, I find so much peace.  Another perk of confessing my sin, is that I recognize I’m no more worthy than anybody else of God’s favor and grace.  With this recognition comes humility, which I don’t always possess a lot of, but humility is essential to be an instrument of God who calls us to love, love, love everyone.  Having pride, or selfishness, does not allow me to love to the full extent of which I am called by God.  (I read this devotion today, which talks of pride and humility and it spoke to my heart so feel free to check it out!) 

Abba Father, I am sorry for when I do not come to you in my times of need, forgive me of my pride.  Help me to lay down my pride and selfishness daily and instead take up humility and love.  Give me the energy and compassion to love others as you do Father.  Help me to recognize myself for the unworthy sinner that I am so that I can recognize my need of you, and so that I am not proud or judgmental.  Thanks for listening to me and loving me always. I am in absolute awe that you count me as your friend.



*By the way, this type of thinking fuels the lie that God likes you when you’re good and when you’re not then he doesn’t.  Instead, God’s love is steadfast and unchanging, and he loves us always.  When we believe the lie it prevents us from having the pure, intimate relationship with God that we are called to have.

**Yes, you can tell God when you’re ticked, either at him or others, and even use violent language if necessary.  Why? Because you’re being honest and real which is necessary for a healthy relationship with anyone. Once you let your frustration out you’re more ready to move on and more willing to take God’s hand to help you up. If you don’t you may become embittered toward God.  If you look you’ll find many Psalmists (loudly) voiced their frustrations as well!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Check yourself

I recently finished reading the second book of Francine Rivers' Mark of the Lion series (I love the series so far!), and as I read about the developments in one of the character's life, my conscience was struck with the realization that I do not know for certain if I am doing God's will. In the book, the character of Phoebe pours herself out and wears herself down while caring for poor widows and their families.  She visits them everyday, sews new clothing for them every night, and brings them food, money, and love.  However, though noble and good, this is not God's will for her at this time. Eventually, Phoebe suffers a stroke, becomes paralyzed on one side of her body, and can no longer communicate by talking, yet she is still fully aware. It is in this state that she truly understands and accepts God's will for her, which is to pray unceasingly for her two children who rejected God and live lives that no mother would want for her children. Before the stroke, Phoebe was too busy and too fatigued from her work with the poor to pray for her children.  I think she subconsciously used her work to distract her from facing the messed up state of her children's lives, thus avoiding and failing to pray for them when they needed it most.

We so easily get distracted!  This is especially true here in the U.S.  Our lives our busy and filled with excess.  Not only that, but we are told to seek our own; the media is full of messages that we are number one, our needs are first, and we can fill our needs by doing x, y, and z.  In response to this, God may choose to take us by the shoulders and plunk us down into situations (possibly not as serious as a stroke!) where we have no choice but to be redirected.  This may be frustrating and confusing at first, but then often we have that "Ahhh, yeah, ok, I get it God" moment.  God did not have to "redirect" me for me to come to the realization that I don't truly know if I am doing God's will. I don't know his will because I havn't asked him recently. I felt God leading me in his will a couple of months ago and so I started down that path, but I haven't consulted him since! I've just gone on my merry little way, asking for help and guidance with certain things, but never pausing long enough to actually listen to God. How could God give me guidance when I would not be lead?  Yes, God is all powerful and he could sit me down and tell me how it is, but that is not his nature.  From the beginning he's given us choices and he's let us make them for better or for worse.*   

In order to follow and carry out God's will we must seek his will.  It doesn't work to go about our daily lives focused on ourselves and only pay attention to Him when life gets bumpy. We are called to a greater purpose.  If I truly desire to know God's will, then I must have both eyes open wide and see beyond myself.  I must seek God every single day so that I can be filled up with his Holy Word (Matthew 4:4), which brings wisdom, truth, lasting joy, peace, comfort, protection, and displays God's unceasing love. With my eyes open and the armor of God on, I can go and do God's good and perfect will--with his help of course!  Romans 12:2 "2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."  

Don't know if you're doing God's will?  A pastor once told me that you know if you are doing God's will if you are "bearing fruit," for this is what Christ appointed us to do (John 15:16 and Romans 7:4).  There are two main thoughts on what Jesus and Paul are referring to when they say to "bear fruit."   One thought, is that when we bear fruit we will possess the fruits of the spirit "22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."(Galatians 5:22-23)  So in this case we will know if we're doing the will of God if these qualities make up who we are.  The other thought is that to bear fruit is to show God's light to the lost, so that they may see and believe and no longer be lost, but be adopted as sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:23)--this would be bearing fruit for God's harvest "36Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together." John 4:36.  This "harvest" is God claiming as his own, thus granting eternal life, all who claim Jesus as their savior.  I believe that both of these thoughts are what it means to bear fruit as both work perfectly together.  The first step to bearing fruit is to give up control and completely trust in the Lord 7 "But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.  8 He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." Jeremiah 17:7-8  

Father God, I am sorry for not seeking your will but instead selfishly and ignorantly always following my own.  Help me not to deceive myself by pretending to seek your will just so that I can put a "check mark in the box."  Instead, let me seek after you with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, and with all my strength.  I will need your help in doing this Lord!  I am so easily distracted! Let it be as it is in the prayer you taught us to pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven."  Wow!  If your will was done on earth as it is in heaven, earth would be unrecognizable! It would be a utopia where unselfish love for one another would abound.  Help me to seek you in whatever I do, for it is my desire to glorify you and you alone will sustain me, you alone can give me my deepest desires.  Thank you for banishing worry and fear, thank you for giving me peace and purpose, thank you for your absolute faithfulness and love.  All glory be to you, in Jesus name, Amen.
34"My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work." John 4:34

*Because he loves us he doesn't force us to do anything, but rather leads us using the Bible, and the circumstances were faced with, some disciplinary, are all to his glory, all to refine us and make us more like him.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Right Mindset

I've discovered that I often could care less about God's big plan, for the world or for me. Usually, I'm completely caught up in the here and now, my mind is preoccupied with it and I can't see beyond it. In the mornings I think about the day before me and the possible challenges I might face at work, or the things I want to get done around the house that night. I focus on the weeks and weekends and how busy each is going to be or how I'm looking forward to spending time with Scott once it is the weekend, or once fill-in-the-blank. Usually, the farthest I look into the future is a couple of years from now, wondering what I will do for my occupation or if I will go back to school for something. I am happy when everything goes my way, I can become moody when things don't. I am focused mostly on me in the here and now. If you are like me well, I'm afraid there is something very wrong with our mindsets!

In Colossians 3:1-2 Paul writes "1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." Or as The Message translation of the Bible puts it: "1-2 So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. See things from his perspective." You see, the world is so much bigger than us! When we are focused on whatever is right in front of us we fail to see the "grand design." We chase after meaningless, worldly things though in the end they gain us nothing, if not bitterness.

It is important to think bigger than the here and now when we consider the things we desire for ourselves, when things are going well, and when life is challenging. When I desire things, an "eternal outlook" helps to keep me from desiring/idolizing/worshipping worldly things that really aren't that good for me and will turn to "dust" (Ecclesiastes!). When times are good, this outlook helps me to keep things in perspective and reminds me what I am here for, to do God's will and bless others. When times are tough having an eternal mindset can make all the difference.

Granted, I haven't experienced the tough times that some have, but I know that it is crucial during these times to follow the advice in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 "16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." First, in verse 16, I love that if we lean on God he gives us all the strength we need and he, The Living Water (John 4:10), The Bread of Life (John 6:35), renews and sustains us through difficult times. The struggles we experience are only momentary, and as Christians, what waits for us in eternity "far outweighs them all." This means that if you put the worst things that happen to you, or anyone, in this life here on earth on one side of a balance and the glory of eternal life in God's presence on the other side of the balance there is no competition! Or as Paul writes in Romans 8:18 "18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."and Paul was definitely a man who knew what suffering was. The promise of eternity with God is too great, God's just too awesome! Praise God!

When I look back on the tougher times in my life I can see benefits that have resulted from each one. In middle school, I struggled through some hard times and at that time I wasn't too happy with God for allowing these struggles, but now I believe God put these struggles in place to prevent me from going down a certain detrimental path that I am sure I would have otherwise. Then in highschool, God addressed what caused me so much pain in middle school, and blessed me with something much greater than I had imagined as an answer to my prayers. Thank you God! I have seen similar things happen in others lives as well, where God denies us something, or gives us hardship, only for things to come out much better than they would have otherwise. Remember, we can only see a teeny, tiny, microscopic amount of what is really going on and what is really going to best for us.

As I make an effort to shift my mindset to focus more on the eternal, I need to remember that "in all things God is working for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose . . . to be conformed to the likeness of his son." Romans 8:28-29. Though things may not be stellar, God is working for my ultimate good and that good is to do God's will as he conforms me to the likeness of his Son. I have been, and will continue to be "refined like silver in a furnace of clay" as "Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time." (Daniel 11:35) and while being refined isn't a whole lot of fun, I have already seen the benefits of time when I was "refined" in college. I can think of three very significant things that resulted from it, all of them positive. You see, if I adopt an eternal mindset I can have patience and I can bear through tough times knowing that God has my best interest in mind. Instead of hopelessness I will have hope. "5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Romans 5:5 Along with this mindset, let us also keep in mind Romans 8:38 "38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."