Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Resources . . .

These are a few of my favorite resources for the equipping of God's people in the midst of a hostile culture . . .


If I could get everyone to read David Platt's book, Counter Culture, I would.  Every one of these books are incredible.  Know God.  Know Truth.  And Don't be ashamed to stand up for it. 

"I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments."  Colossians 2:4

"But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry."  2 Timothy 4:5

"But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life."  Jude 20-21

"For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."  2 Corinthians 10:3-5

"The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet."  Romans 16:20

Fire in My Bones . . .

Sometimes, it's really hard to keep sharing the love of Christ with others.  It's especially hard to share when your audience is hostile toward the idea of God in the first place.  I find myself often using aggressive apologetics because I'm so desperate for the person to see God--really see him, without the blinders.  But, that's exactly what's going on, isn't it??  Oh, my word, I have been a Jesus-Loving-Girl-Who-Can't-Get-Enough-of-the-Word off and on most of my life, but this newest season is overwhelming!  "Feed me your word, Lord!"  And in my most recent studying, I have realized more and more the influence of satan (yes, I truly believe this being exists) on the unbelieving world.  I see more clearly his hostility toward not only those who do/will believe, but his hostility toward all creation in general!  He seeks to destroy all the beauty of all creation, and he surely isn't content to stop with those who are called in Christ.  (h)e is a destroyer of all life, from the drug addict to the porn addict, from the bulimic to the gal who can't quit spending money and wracking up debt.  (h)e doesn't show partiality or favoritism.  (h)e is in all-out attack mode.  Period.  End of sentence.  Got it?? 

Because of all these things, I'm learning to pray differently, and I am not at all surprised by the physical attacks I have been undergoing.  We can certainly pray, "Father, please let them come to a saving knowledge of you," but we may want to back up a step further and pray, "Father, remove the blindness Satan has inflicted upon this soul," according to 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 which says:  "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."  Do you see that??  We feel such responsibility and gut-wrenching anguish when a person rejects the beauty of Truth, but we forget that they cannot see it.  We have to first pray that the veil and blindness is lifted. 

What in the world does this have to do with Fire in My Bones, you may ask??  A whole lot!  Sometimes I get weary.  Do you?  I get so tired of people misquoting God's Word, pulling passages out of context for their own selfish desires, outright propagating lies, and ignoring facts.  I even feel like screaming at times.  I get very agitated when those who call themselves believers in Christ deny everything that he said, glorify sin that completely destroys a person, and even encourage others to do so.  We know, from Scripture, that this will happen and has been happening all along.  But it doesn't make it any easier.  Here are just a few passages referring to those who will turn away from Truth:

"For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths."  2 Timothy 4:3-4 

"They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us.  For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us."  1 John 2:19

"These are people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit."  Jude 19

"They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised.  Amen."  Romans 1:25

"Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of  those who practice them."  Romans 1:32

If we are truly pro-life, then we are FOR ETERNAL LIFE!!  We can't keep the Gospel to ourselves when people are being destroyed all around us.  Christ came to set us free from the law of sin and death, he took our blame to the cross so we wouldn't have to.  Why in God's name would we intentionally glorify sin, the destruction of humanity, and deny life??  It is because some worship the created things (and beings) rather than God.  If you worship people (we are all one, we are all in this together, we belong to one another, yada yada yada--and things I have heard in 'christian' circles lately), then self is elevated above God.  Love the person because of a beautiful, holy God who made each individual in his image.  Love them enough to help them see Truth (and, yes!! We CAN know absolute Truth!), and love them enough to see them set free!

So, I have this problem.  I have a fire in my bones!  I want to just keep quiet and keep it to myself because I am tired of people rejecting the beauty and perfection of the Truth of Jesus Christ.  I want to see people truly set free.  I do not like conflict, and I do not like arguing.  But I have to tell others about Jesus.  I am pro-life!  I am for the full life every person can know in Christ, therefore:

But if I say, "I will not mention his word
   or speak anymore in his name,:
his word is in my heart like a fire,
   a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
   indeed, I cannot.

Jeremiah 20:9 NIV

And remember this dude??  "Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring--those who keep God's commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus."  Revelation 12:17 NIV

I will keep on telling you how much Jesus loves you.  I will hold fast to Truth.  I have tried to dismantle it, and I only believe more.  I cannot keep quiet, and I won't.  I not only want to tell you all about him, I want to show you by how I live and love and serve.  God is holy, make no mistake.  But he is also TRUE love.  There is no other substitute, and I just can't hold that in. 

Be Resolved!!

I was going to submit this for publication, but I didn't want to wait and play the acceptance/rejection game.  Encouraged by my dear friend, I'm putting it on my blog instead.  Let me know your thoughts!

"But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way." Daniel 1:8 NIV*

Recently, I had a brief text "conversation" with a friend. She was lamenting the fact that she didn't feel the desire or will to lose weight, even though she knew she needed to. I had heard this so many times from her, but something in me shifted this time--a tenderness, if you will. I replied that she should ask God to give her that desire, and I left it at that. I opened my Bible that evening trying to decide whether or not (yes, I know in advance how very Bible-geeky this is) I wanted to begin my new study with the captivity phase of the Israelites (Daniel), or the post-captivity books. I chose Daniel because my OCD mind would not allow me to reverse the order. So, I opened up my Bible to Daniel 1, researched some background information, and dived in. I had been implementing this new strategy of study in which I read a passage or chapter, and then I thoroughly journal about it. As one who had grown tired and weary of study, this was a refreshing course of action, inspired by a lovely movement called If:Equip. It was certainly feeding my soul. Now, back to the passage in Daniel. I had read Daniel several times throughout my life, and I had heard many sermons preached on the book of Daniel. This time, however, something stuck out to me that didn't necessarily have anything to do with the prophetic nature in which I normally heard a sermon. Remember, this was the same evening I had just had the "conversation" with my friend about weight loss.

So, I'm reading along about how God handed the Judahites off to captivity due to their disobedience (vs.2), and how the King ordererd his chief official (who also happened to be a Eunuch, if you study that one up a bit) to hand select for the King's service some of the Israelites of nobility and royalty. Scripture is quite clear that these were "young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified" (vs. 4). Lets face it. These were the kingdom hotties who had lived a life of privilege. These same hotties were now Babylonian captives forced into service for the King himself. The Chief of the Officials, Ashpenaz, was the one in charge of their training, and he was to fully immerse them in Babylonian culture. Where did that begin (and I love this part)? Language and Literature. They were to learn the language, the stories, the myths, the festivals, the histories--full immersion, people. If they had films back then, they would have watched all the popular films that represented this culture.

All of this is interesting, but this next portion is the kicker for me. What do we usually think about when anticipating travel to a new land? I immediately think about the food. Will I get to feast on fresh, exotic fruits and breads, or will I be eating bugs or some other disgusting meat I can't name? Will I end up getting worms from the water, or will I enjoy my food experience? As a pampered American with far too many choices, I have become considerably agitated and terrified by the thought of eating something I'm not comfortable eating. God forbid, right? Well, in fact, God forbid for Daniel and his friends. Verse 5 tells us that not only were they immersed intellectually, but they were also immersed dietarily (is that even a word?). "The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king's table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king's service." At face value, this seems like an excellent deal. These captives didn't have to worry about foraging for food in the garbage dumps of Babylon, and they knew they were set for 3 years. However. There's always that, isn't there? However. It all seems good, but . . . I can imagine, and with a little digging into the dietary habits of ancient Babylon, I'm sure you will also find that many of the foods the king probably enjoyed were in direct violation of the dietary restrictions given to the Israelites. Not only that, they were most definitely offered to the gods of Babylon, and therefore, unclean and defiled.

So, what did Daniel do? Did he fret and pray that God would just forgive them since they were forced into an impossible situation? Did he partake only to feel bad later? Did he wait until he felt he should act? No! "But Daniel RESOLVED not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way." vs. 8. Wow! Did you catch that phrase? "But Daniel resolved . . . " In our English dictionaries, the adjective "resolve" means, "firmly determined to do something". Or, in our case, to NOT do something. Other English versions use such words as "purposed" (NKJV/KJV), "determined"(NLT), "made up his mind"(NASB). I like the word "resolved", which is used by both the NIV and the ESV. Though Daniel and his friends were quite literally in captivity, he did not allow his captivity to keep him captive! He resolved! (And it's ALWAYS easier to do that with friends, right?) So, Daniel goes to that chief official and tells him he and his friends don't want to eat the king's food. They will eat only veggies and water (yep, you read that right . . . and which provided much fodder for modern day diet books). The official, though "God caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel" vs. 9, was still afraid of the king. Remember that this same official was a Eunuch, and not so by choice. He, too, was a captive of the king. So, he uses the line that strikes fear in even the modern reader "off with his head!" in speaking of his reason for not allowing Daniel and his friends this food trial. So, Daniel turns to the guard appointed to him by the chief official. He requests a 10-day test, and the guard agrees to it. Nothing but veggies and water, folks. Somehow, and we know it is only because of God's goodness, Daniel and his friends pass the test and end up looking healthier and more nourished than all the other captives eating the king's food. "So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead." vs. 14.

Do you realize that Daniel and his friends were not only blessed immensely by God for their resolve, and given favor and gifts unsurpassed in the kingdom, but he literally sustained them their entire time in captivity? There is no verse, and no reason whatsoever, for us to believe that after the 10 day test they ate the king's food. They "resolved" not to be defiled. This means, and stay with me here, that Daniel and his friends ate veggies and water (and no getting around that in the Hebrew, friends) their entire Babylonian captivity. They did not wait until they felt they should make the change. They knew that by partaking of the king's food, they would be disobeying God. They chose to be faithful even though they seemed to have been in a position in which they could get away with no longer holding to their dietary restrictions. They may have been fully immersed in a pagan culture, but they did not allow themselves to be defiled when it was in their power to do so. Isn't that beautiful? This isn't really a passage about diet, folks. I get so tired of that, don't you? God is not telling us we can't have wine. He isn't telling us we can't have fruits, breads, meats, etc. However, Daniel and his friends knew that by partaking of this particular fare--sacrificed to false gods, filled with dirty foods that were unfit for the Israelites--they were truly becoming captives of Babylonian culture. And God raised them up. I love that! Whenever we resolve to follow God, he is the one who sustains us. There is no way on God's green earth I could, alone, resolve to only eat veggies and water for most of the remainder of my life.

So, back to my original "conversation." It hit me that we must "resolve" long before we ever feel like making that good decision. Nearly 3 years ago, after much crying out to God for him to heal my body and help me lose all the weight I gained due to thyroid cancer, I resolved. I resolved to quit crying about my situation and DO SOMETHING. I decided to walk into a Weight Watcher's meeting and make healthy choices--whether or not it worked, and whether or not I felt like it. I resolved to make one good choice, then another, then another. God blessed my resolve, and I lost all 75 pounds! Again, this isn't a passage merely about diet and weight loss. It's about Godly resolve. Saying, "I resolve!" I will not allow my culture to defile me. I will not remain in captivity. I can be free in the midst of physical captivity when I allow God to free me from spiritual captivity. We can't wait until we "feel" like it. We could literally die if we do. I was obese and very unhealthy. I did not "feel" like working hard since nothing had previously worked. However, I knew I wasn't honoring God. I knew my extra weight was not only harming my physical body, but my spiritual body as well. I couldn't do all the things God called me to do as long as I was in captivity.

So, if I could have this conversation with my girlfriends, whether it be about weight loss, financial decisions, cultural captivity, etc, I would say, in all the wisdom of Daniel and his friends, "Resolve not to defile" yourselves. Resolve to follow God in obedience, even when it is impossibly difficult. And, girl, you know it was just as hard for them as it is for us today! Really? Veggies and water?? And, remember. These were men. We women can probably get by with salad and water everyday, but a man? That was God--completely God. And this same God gives us this same strength today to resolve. So, don't wait until you feel like it, resolve today to walk in obedience. He will do the rest.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Let's Break Up (and how my love for (c)hurch was restored in the midst of a split)

I grew up with an eclectic, yet rich, church background.  My mom began taking my brother and I to a small Nazarene Church, and that's really all I remember for many years.  Fast forward to a split, and mom takes us to the local Wesleyan church.  I call these years the "holiness formation" years.  I learned about quiet times, seeking to be holy, and experience during these years.  Fast forward to my junior high and high school years when I dabbled in a variety of churches:  the local non-denominational (charismatic) church in which I learned how to pray with boldness and confidence, then a local Baptist church I attended with a boyfriend and his family in which I first heard of KJV-onlyism and music with a beat being inappropriate (this church experience negatively impacted my view of Baptists, and still does to some degree --I am truly sorry, my precious Baptist friends.  Jesus is still working on me).  We then softly landed at a medium size free Baptist church with an incredible teacher, the likes of whom I haven't heard since (and who still faithfully Pastor's my father's church).  I learned a love for Scripture here.  I learned grace, love, community, and knowledge here.  It was a lovely place.  Then I went to college.  YIKES!!  I had felt emotionally drawn to Catholicism off and on my entire childhood, but I thought you had to be born Catholic to be Catholic--so that was that.  I never landed anywhere in college.  Sure, we attended an Assemblies of God, and I would sometimes drive home to the local Charismatic Church, but I never connected. 

Fast forward to post college when my hubs and I ended up at a small Baptist Church.  It was there I learned doctrine for the first time, systematically speaking.  It was also where I became hyper aware of inconsistencies, legalism, being someone's project, etc.  I loved so many people there, and I really did learn a lot.  But it was also a place filled with pain--some due to immaturity, some due to sin.  We left said little church for bigger Baptist Church in the same affiliation, and I started to feel that sense of community again.  However, I had some nagging questions.  By then I had learned a variety of opposing doctrines, and I was trying to sort out for myself why I believed what I believed.  I went through a major crises of faith.  I never once considered abandoning my love for Jesus.  But church??  That was another story.  I could do without her.  She was mean, legalistic, fought with everyone she disagreed with, stuck with her own, and produced plastic people.  So, I did what any normal girl would do in the midst of a faith crises--I joined the Catholic Church.  In the Catholic Church, I learned reverence and mystery and continuity and history.  The church has a long history!!  It didn't, in fact, start with the Anabaptists.  Hmm.  Who would have guessed?  It still has such a grip on my soul.  It is so other-worldly and beautiful, despite those teachings I do not agree with, it was a place of real healing for my soul.

However, hubs was NOT on board, and I get that.  I really do.  See, he was raised in the Assemblies of God church.  You could say there were differences.  So, we began a search together.  We visited a large non-denom church that was fine, but I couldn't handle it.  I had had a taste of all that lovely quiet, liturgy, mystery, reverence, and beauty, and I wasn't quite willing to abandon it entirely.  So, we were invited to attend a local Lutheran Church by some parents on the soccer team my husband coached.  We fell in love very quickly.  It was very different for hubs, but he loved it, and it was such a place of healing, finding myself, community, and all that beauty I so loved in the Catholic Church.  It was the perfect place for us to meet half way, and we were happy to raise our children there.  They loved it too.

We moved.  That was heartbreaking.  We tried a few churches out after the move, but none felt like "home" until we found that Lutheran Church in the same affiliation.  That was home for all of us.  After some time, there were doctrinal issues that crept up that bothered hubs.  I get it.  Again, I understand.  We made a drastic switch to a local Christian, non-denom church, and I was not. having. it.  No.Way.  Worship was this horrendous ordeal for me.  The first week there, I felt like someone was scratching the chalkboard next to me.  But the kids loved it.  They loved it, and I saw them come alive.  I heard them talking about it after church, during the week, and looking forward to going back.  One kiddo (who couldn't stand going to church) was drawing pictures about how much she loved the new Pastor.  So, I kept my mouth shut and just argued with myself and God instead.  Slowly, I began to fall in love with the simplicity and sincerity of this congregation, despite the fog, lights, and concert feel.  Did I mention it was huge??  The Lutheran Church we had been members of was roughly the same size, but this just felt ENORMOUS.  Soon after I worked through all my crazy issues with worship style and began to fall in love with this style of worship, the church went through a massive split.

Are. you. kidding.  me??  Nope.  They really did.  But, again, our kids LOVED it!!  They were terrified we would leave, so I kept my mouth shut and argued with myself and God.  Again.  Ok.  I did complain to my hubs and friends as well.  The move was so very rough on them, so we were NOT leaving this church.  In fact, I told our kids that unless a Pastor stood up front and denied Jesus, we were staying.  So we did, and here's what I learned.

I learned a lot about myself.  You see, I grew up believing church was all about me.  My preferences.  My experiences.  My ideas of perfection.  I grew up believing that if said church hurt your feelings or no longer met your needs (or God forbid, experienced a split), you just picked up your pack and headed to the next place.  I learned that I never truly felt planted because I learned at a young age to just quit when the going got tough.  I learned a lot about the church, too.  Yes, Jesus died for the Church universal, but he also died for the church local.  And he plants us locally.  How could I say I stood for the Church when I couldn't even stand by little church??  I learned that it really is all about Jesus and HIS bride--He died for her!  He died for her brokenness, her sin, her inability to maintain a conflict-free zone for long, and even her hypocrisy.  He died for her.  He died for me.  I am a part of something so much bigger.  I am blessed to be able to live in a country in which I can drive to a local congregation, sing my heart out, read Scripture collectively, and hear the Word taught.  Do I really want to abandon the true faith over preferences?  Or did I want to be a part of safe guarding Truth for my children and my children's children??  I learned that happens at the local, and very messy, level.  You can't create any other route.  It's a local church, peeps. 

I love my church.  I have never experienced the sense of community I now experience.  I have never felt more love and solidarity in the midst of seeing what seems like half our congregation walk out the door over music style, preaching style, preferences--not Truth.  They didn't leave because Jesus was denied.  They didn't leave because His Word was no longer taught.  And I could have just joined the mob and left as well.  I wanted to.  I would have missed out on so very much.  I am here to stay.  WE are here to stay, my family and I.  We have learned that people mess up.  The church didn't find itself in the mess it was in overnight.  Nope.  I have watched our head Pastor remain courageous, faithful, and filled with integrity despite outright lies, meanness, and misrepresentation.  I am thankful for the split.  Yes, it's sad to see people go, and I wish many had stuck around to see the beautiful work God is doing in our church, but if all this needed to happen just to teach me not to bolt when times get tough, to support those barely hanging on, to learn the church isn't about my preferences but about what Jesus wants to do through each of us at the local level, then it was well worth it.

For the first time, I love her--I love this messy church that He died for.  I want to be a part of that sacred deposit, and I want to be a part of this beautiful community that just loves Jesus and wants to share him with everyone without all the fanfare. And all those lessons I learned throughout the years?  They really make sense now.  They have all come together in my soul, and they have prepared me for this time.  I love my Pastor, Elders, and fellow servants in Christ.  When the going gets tough, we have to do a face plant and get real with God.  I am thankful for what a messy church split taught me about my faith, about the church, and about my place within it all.  We are in a beautiful place right now, and we could have missed out on it all.  Wherever their is pain and suffering, healing is in the wings. And that healing is deeply profound.  It truly is.  So, lets not break up, ok??  Lets stick this out and see what Jesus is going to do because of it.  I love my church--little c.  It's home.  

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Beyond All Dreams: A Review

I will begin my review by stating that I love Elizabeth Camden's novels!  She is a superb writer, and Beyond All Dreams was certainly no disappointment.  The historical fiction genre is a personal favorite, and I was thrilled to receive her newest title    As a former library employee and lover of all things literature, this book was a balm to my soul.  It beautifully mixes history, intrigue, romance, strength, faith, and integrity.  Really, does it get any better than this?  As usual, Camden's female characters are no wimps.  These are strong women with strong faith.  The main female character in this novel is no exception.  With a tragic disability, the reader is quickly drawn to stand up for the defenseless, yet the beauty of forgiveness and redemption interwoven throughout is faith-affirming. 

If you are a reader that is intrigued with early American History, loves reading, loves libraries, and desires to read a novel that glorifies God, look no further.  This is a lovely book with such depth.  I really must add visiting the Library of Congress to my bucket list.  And this book is a reminder of the fragility and beauty of the human soul that God longs to heal for his glory!  Thank you, Elizabeth, for yet another beautiful novel.