Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Deep Redemption

"Hope deferred makes the heart sick; but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life." (Proverbs 13:12)

A sick heart...

That's where it started. I was heartbroken, hopeless, rolling in self-pity and sin. My thoughts read something like this: "This is as good as it gets. I made my own bed, I guess I'm lying in it. I deserve this life. God doesn't have better for me." You get the idea.

I was so focused on my circumstances, I lost sight of my God. I lost sight of who He is and what He promises He has for me. "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and future." (Jeremiah 29:11) "No eye has seen, no ear has heard what God has in store for those who love Him...`" (I Corinthians 2:9)

The ongoing work of the Christian life is for us to made perfect, to live out the work Christ completed on the cross. "being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion to the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6)

I just forgot that my deepest desire was for God to continue His good work inside of me, to mold my character to become more like His...at any cost. I became focused on my circumstances over the work of my character. I lost sight of my God for the intensity of my pain. Which is so wrong because we are promised trials. I had forgotten the words of my precious Jesus, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have (Jesus) have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

Reminding myself these simple promises can be a full time job! When we lose sight of God and all we can see is our own misery, we lose sight of who we really are because all we see is who we appear to be and "hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?" (Romans 8:24b)

Quite simply put, I lost hope. I lost my Hope, "Christ Jesus our hope" (I Timothy 1:1)

Because God's word says that Jesus is our hope and we have hope, "You will be secure, because there is hope;" (Job 11:18) I realized hopelessness in any situation, area or circumstance of life is a sin.

I was hopeless that my life would get better. I was sinning out of control and I could not stop myself. "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do...As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me." (Romans 7:15 & 17)

Realizing that in the power of the Holy Spirit, I had the power to stop and to overcome my sin. "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then...I...am serving God" (Romans 7:25 NASB)

I began to fight to overcome this terrible sin of hopelessness. I began to silence the lies in my life by taking every thought captive. "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." (II Corinthians 10:5)

I also began to actively guard my heart from allowing these untruths to steal hope from my very soul. "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." (Proverbs 4:23)

Without hope the battle for a better character is lost. Without hope we cannot persevere throught the tribulations we are told to expect in life. Jesus promises us troubles but also promises us a way out. "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." (I Corinthians 10:13)

We are also told that troubles and persecution lead to good results, Godly results, in our character. "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us," (Romans 5:3-5a)

If we only hope with a Godly hope, we will not be disappointed. By not losing our hope, we can experience great joy!

The Apostle Paul tells us that trials and tribulation are essential to character building. Yet, we are to endure them for the joy we have in Christ. We also have Jesus as the ultimate example of enduring trials for the joy set before Him. "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2)

This is the only way He could endure death on the cross is to set joy continually before Him. He could always see the better purpose, the higher purpose, the purpose of His Father, the hope that we would reconciled to a right relationship with God.

I began to ask God to change my character instead of focusing only on my circumstances. He not only changed my character, He also began to change my circumstances. These same trials were no longer useful to molding my character and all that I was praying for was taking place! My character was changed and I had become free of the prison of that particular circumstance. Essentially, God had taught me the lesson He wanted me to learn and we were free to move on, together. Now, I still face the same trials from time to time. I, however, do not make the same mistakes. I am free from becoming hopeless. I recognize the downward spiral of thinking, the selfish focus of prayer and I ask God to overcome my weaknesses in the power of His Holy Spirit.

When I am weak He is strong in me. "but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong." (I Corinthians 12:9-10)

My hope is alive and well. It is firmly rooted and established in Jesus Christ. God has brought me friends in whom I can openly and honestly confide my struggles and confess my sins. "Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective." (James 5:16)

Don't you long to be effective in battle? Then start being healed from your sins. Start overcoming sin.

Dare to overcome, to hope, to live fully. "The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness." (John 10:10 NLT)

A life fully lived is one full of hope.

The Tree...

When God restored my hope, I became intrigued with the tree of life. Why does the Bible call fulfilled longings a tree of life? Why does the Bible call so many things a tree of life?

In Proverbs, wisdom , a tongue that brings healing, the fruit of the righteousness and she who wins souls are all called trees of life.

As I meditated on the tree of life, God began to show me the redemptive theme of the tree of life.

In the Garden of Eden, two trees are specifically mentioned in the Bible, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. God commanded Adam and Eve to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They couldn't say no to the enemy. They couldn't resist their own couriosity. They chose worldly wisdom over Godly wisdom. They were tempted, they ate, they lost paradise bringing sin into the world for all time.

We still choose to eat from that same bad tree each day. We make the choice to sin knowing fully what the cost will be. We also know the riches of living a life restored. We still choose to sin over and over again, thus having to choose to be redeemed, to be restored to a right relationshiop with God over and over again.

Even in our many sins and our needy state, God gives us opportunity after opportunity to receive the blessing that was lost in the garden. We still get to know what life would have tasted like had Adam and Eve eaten from the tree of life instead.

God instructs us over and over in His Word on how to receive this blessing of the tree of life. If we keep our hearts full of hope ("Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life." Proverbs 13:12) we get it. If we seek for and embrace wisdom (Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her...Proverbs 3:18) we get it. If we speak healing words and truth with our tongue ("The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit." Proverbs 15:4) we get it. And, if we lead a righteous life full of wisdom that leads others to the Lord (The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise. Proverbs 11:30) we get it.

So, all we have to do is obey to receive this special blessing of life. Yet, we continually fall short. We make the same miserable choice Adam and Eve did so long ago every single day we live. The only way God could redeem us, purify us and ultimately give us the tree of life was to give us Jesus. His son came to us, all God, all man. He says, "I am the...Life," (John 14:6) and He hung on a tree for our sins.

"He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed." (I Peter 2:24)

The cross...the death of Christ...the ultimate redemption...the tree of Life.

Have you eaten from this tree of Life?

There's More...

I recently attended a dance conference called dance revolution with Julia. I had been studying the tree of life for quite some time before that weekend. The dance faculty performed a very moving dance drama called "The Tree." It reenacted these very principles through dance. It was very powerful. The dancers carried around these large apples, representing different sins. The apples were very burdensome as the dancers tried to live their lives in their sin. God's Word tell us we are dead in our sin. We are living like mummies...going through life dead!

When we are dead to life, we cannot respond to Life!

"When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive - right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ's Cross." (Colossians 2:13-14 The Message)

We need to receive the free gift of eternal life to pass from death to life, to wipe the slate of our lives clean. Have you done that?

God's Word tells us once we've passed from death to life in Christ all the blessings in Christ are "yes and amen."

"Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God's Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident." (II Corinthians 1:20 The Message)

When we are alive with Christ and living in line with His will for our life, all of the promises of God can flow freely in our life. What a beautiful picture of the love we experience "because He first loved us." ("We love because He first loved us." I John 4:19)

Wouldn't you rather be living a life full of promise and blessing than be stuck in a dead-end life?

These promises and blessings include not only experiencing the blessings of the tree of life but actually eating from it. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God." (Revelation 2:7)

We get to fully experience Life in Heaven. We get to eat from the tree of life even though we don't deserve to. We get to eat, to experience life as we were meant to experience it in the garden, earthly paradise, because we have been redeemed and we have overcome sin and death.

"And they overcame...because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony..." (Revelation 13:11 NASB)

Webster's defines testimony as "a statement made under oath to establish a fact; any declaration; or any form of evidence; proof."

I want to declare and prove how we can overcome a life of sin and death and eat from the tree of life. I want to establish the fact that although the privilege of eating from the tree of life was lost in The Garden of Eden, we can eat from the tree of life in Paradise, Heaven, through the blood of the Lamb. I want a declaration, a statement.

What's yours?

How often do you use your testimony to overcome your problems, your battles, your sin? The key to overcoming is to share your story.

Be victorious, eat from the tree of life, share your testimony, tell your story.

More Deep Callings

Monday, November 27, 2006

Deep Callings

"Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and Your breakers have swept over me." (Psalm 42:7)

Deep Longings vs. Deep Callings

We all experience deep longings. We long to be loved deeply, accepted completely and understood totally. We long to be validated, valued, pursued and cherished with never ending and unconditional love.

There is a place deep within us that feels a void so large only God, True Love, can fill it. "God is love." (1 John 4:16)

One of the most awesome things about God is that when we turn to Him to fill our need to be loved, He not only fulfills our desire for love; He satisfies every longing if we let Him. "For He satisfies the longing soul...And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." (Psalm 107:9 and Philippians 4:19 NASB)
This is the point that some Christians can lose sight of abundant living and settle for a mediocre life where there is assurance of salvation but very little peace, joy and contentment. I found myself at this point some years ago...
I had already allowed God to come and fill my heart by receiving grace to forgive my sins and save me from eternal separation from Christ. Because I trusted Christ for the forgiveness of my sins when I was a young child, I still had a relationship much like I had with Jesus when I was young. I still had a childlike relationship with Jesus Christ. I was still an immature believer after having trusted in Christ for many years. I was living my life, narrowly escaping fire.
"Each one's work will become clear...because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer great loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." (1 Corinthians 3:13 and 15) I knew I would go to Heaven to be with Him when I died, I just didn't know why I had to endure such a miserable life until then. I still longed to feel God's love, to feel validated, valued, pursued and cherished by God. The fact is I didn't feel it. If I was supposed to be alive in Christ, ("...even so in Christ all shall be made alive." 1 Corinthians 15:22), why did I feel so dead?
This is where I began to recognize I was unsatisfied, but in a different way. I knew from all of the other mature Christians in my life, including relatives, Sunday School teachers and friends, that my relationship with God was lacking, I just didn't know what. I began my quest for that missing thing, I had always been taught there was more to this life. I just didn't know what that thing was.

Then God brought me to a place where I met Christians I could relate to, who could listen to my questions, to my hurts, and could encourage me. When I read my Bible it made sense and I could apply God's Word to my life. When I prayed I began to feel the peace of God. "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7 NKJ)

I began to recognize that what I felt were not necessarily the same old deep longings, but what I began to refer to as "deep callings." The calling of God on my life, to go deeper with Him, to explore the Bible more deeply, to examine my heart more closely and to live a life radically different than the one I had been used to living.

I was beginning to live enveloped in God's love, fully aware of His great love toward me at all times by "keeping myself in God." (Jude 21)
I started to live by knowing truth instead of believing truth as relative to my feelings. God's Word tells us our feelings are deceptive. "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) We are to hold fast to what we believe. We are not believe only the things we see. "Now faith is...the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1)

I began to tell myself how much God loved me each day by reading His promises in the Bible and meditating on these verses. Jeremiah 3:16 "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, with lovingkindness I have drawn you." and Zephaniah 3:17 "The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing."

As I heard His song, I longed for my life to become a prayer, a gift, a love letter to my God. I discovered that when I answered the deep callings in my life, my life was transformed; my life began to look like the love song to my Savior I was longing to sing.

Psalm 42 says that after deep calls to deep, His lovingkindness and song are with me and become a prayer to Him. "Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls; all Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me. The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; and His song will be with me in the night, a prayer to the God of my life." (Psalm 42:7-8)

The deep callings, the songs God sings to us, become our prayers to Him. We must learn to hear and recognize His voice in the depths.

Rushing Waters...
This deep place within me is where Christ lives...and I die. "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21)
The word deep in this verse means the depths, abyss or grave. Rolled over means to cover with grave stones. We hear God's voice when we put ourselves, our fleshly desires, to death. It is in this death of our own flesh and selfish desires that we begin to experience life, True Life. "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Galations 2:20)

There are many paradoxes in the Christian life. We must experience death to have life, face fear to embrace freedom, walk through darkness to see light, and lose everything to possess everything to name a few. We must die to live and we must hear silence to hear God's voice.

What do you think of when you think of deep waters? When I think of deep waters, I think of silence, stillness and coldness. My daughter loves to spend time under water. One thing she wanted me to do all summer was go into the deep water with her and call out her name while she was under water so she could see if she could hear me. She could never hear me. The water was too deep. This fascinated her. It also fascinated me. I believe one reason we must journey to the deep sometimes to hear God's voice is that it is in silence and stillness that we hear God. "Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)

When I am giving my children directions, for any reason, I ask them to be quiet and listen to me. I tell them to learn the rules and follow them because when they stop following the rules, we cease to have fun. For example, if we go to the zoo, they are to hold someone's hand and stay where they can see me at all times. If one child runs off, the other children can't enjoy the zoo because we are all searching for the lost child. That is no fun! God tells us to be quiet and listen closely so that we can go about our lives and enjoy living rather than doing unnecessary work. If we aren't paying complete attention to His directions, we may forget to follow some of them and have to pay a pretty big price. This is why He tell us to, "Be still and know that I am God."

In the movies when someone is underwater, it is silent, the outside world is muffled. Deep water scenes are mysterious. When the actors come up from being underwater, things are suddenly loud, quick and confusing. This is how our lives are. Until we can go to the depths, the quietness, the stillness and the mysteriousness of God remain hidden. Great things are promised to us when we call out in the depths. "Call to me and I will answer you, and tell you great and hidden things that you have not known." (Jeremiah 33:3 NRSV)

Now, if there are two people underwater trying to communicate, they usually can. If I were to put my face in the water and try to scream my daughter's name, she could hear something. Two divers remain attuned to each other, paying attention and watching for signals from each other. Could that be one reason God calls us to the depths? So we can become attuned to His voice?

Revelation 1:15 says, "...and His voice was like the sound of rushing waters." Rushing water is powerful, forceful, alive. I once went tubing down the Guadalupe River. Everyone warns passengers to keep their hands and feet in the raft and hang on tight during the rapids. The rushing water can take you under the current and hold you there drowning you. When we passed through the rushing waters, I was swept out of the raft and under the water very swiftly. The other five girls in our raft had to all struggle to pull me back on board. Rushing waters are very powerful! To be swept up in rushing waters can be very terrifying!
Deep water, rushing water gets our attention. Waterfalls however lovely, are also electrifying. Crashing waves and walls of water have power, life and even terror in them. Standing in their presence can be as fearful as it is awe-inspiring.

As you soak yourself in deep water and let it wash over you, listen for the quiet, still voice calling out to you from the deep. Habakkuk 3:10b says, "The overflowing of the water passed by. The deep uttered its voice." We have to remember that even when we feel swept away, lost at sea, God is directing the living water. God is the Living Water.

The quiet, still voice that sounds like rushing waters is calling out to you. Answer His call. "Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts..." (Hebrews 3:15)

"Deep calls to deep..."

Deep water is also very distinctive. It is deep and remains deep when water is removed from it. When we take a cup of water, no one can tell. If we add a cup of water, it makes no difference. The depths of God are also unchanging. There is enough for everyone. God revealed Himself to Moses as "I AM that I AM." (Exodus 3:14) That is why one of the names of God is I AM. God was all that Moses needed to deliver the Israelites from Egypt and He is all that we need today. Every facet of our God remains the same forever. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)

Come, drink deeply! Enjoy the never-changing, always abundant Living Water as you experience the depths.

More Deep Callings

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I Am Thankful

I am thankful for...



and this.

But, mostly, I am thankful for this...

"But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were sinners, Christ died for us...so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Romans 5:8 and Hebrews 4:16b)

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Day the Oatmeal Hit the Floor

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity." Psalm 133:1 NLT

Some days I feel like there are the fights and arguments themselves and the times leading up to the fighting and quarreling among my children.

I have to remind myself that raising children requires training them in righteousness (II Timothy 3:16) and that if they exhibited the right behavior or followed the right path all the time--or even most of the time--we wouldn't have been given so much instruction in God's Word on training children.

Teach your children to choose the right path, and when they are older, they will remain upon it. Proverbs22:6 NLT

Webster's defines training as guiding the growth of mentally and morally and instructionally so as to make proficient. When I taught school, one key to mastery was repetition...so, each day we set out to "Do everything without arguing..." (Philippians 2:14)

We practice over and over all day long, day after day.

My children hear my common refrain, " God gave you brothers and sisters to be your friends...you get to live with your best friends...you never have to be bored or play alone. Enjoy one another. Be kind to one another. Love one another."

Isn't that every mother's desire, that her children would love one another?

Then suddenly it comes...the moment...If I'm not paying attention I can miss it. They are playing a game--together...having fun--together...singing...talking... reading...cuddling...camping...coloring...running...jumping... racing...whatever... they're just doing it together--wonderfully, happily, joyfully--together!

These are the moments I pause to savor...to say a prayer of thanks that God's truth is sinking into their souls. I love to engrave these images on my heart holding fast to the memory...my children enjoying the fruits of loving one another...of the blessing of living in unity.

I've also noticed these times are coming more and more frequently and lasting longer in our home.

They're learning to pick up where they left off the evening before, to share, to take turns, to submit to one another; quite simply, they're learning to love

Then something happens to reinforce it...as if I ever had any doubts.

It had been one of those days...the arguing kind.

I was tired. They were tired.

I was hungry. They were hungry.

It was almost dinnertime. Time to call day it and look forward to a beautiful, new tomorrow...a new beginning...a do-over.

I was feeding the baby. They were all in the kitchen.

Then I heard it...the commotion...the bickering...the rustling...the semi-explosion...the loud gasps...the snickering...the whispers...the quiet giggles...

As I carefully treaded my way to the kitchen, I saw it, an entire canister of oatmeal on the floor...on the counter...in the drawers...behind the refrigerator...everywhere.

The kids were all huddled together tightly holding hands staring at me wide-eyed. They weren't fighting or blaming or accusing or pointing any fingers. The oatmeal had hit the floor...this was serious!

The oldest spoke, "We all did it--together."

They stood silently slumped in the corner of the kitchen, waiting for me to lower the boom. I had to turn around to hide my smile...together--we did it--together...magical words...happy words...music to my ears.

"As long as we're working together," I say, "let's clean up together." One got the broom, one got the dustpan and one got the vacuum.

We worked--together.

I felt reassured that when they need each other the most, the days the oatmeal hits the floor, my kids will pull together as a team...as friends...as a family...as brothers and sisters who love each other and will be able to see one another through any trial.

We got it...the reason God gave us brothers and sisters.

"A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need." Proverbs 17:17 NLT

Whether it be sickness, loss or conflict, my hope is that they will love each other through it, remain loyal, and hold each other up when one is weak.

I pray they will learn to love one another as brothers and as friends.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Perfect Pumpkin Patch Pictures

I've often wondered how other moms get that perfect picture...in the bluebonnets...in the pumpkin patch...around the Christmas tree...

I've NEVER attempted a pumpkin patch picture...I don't really like orange...or pumpkins...or the other hassles that come with this...remember, I've been pregnant with babies that can't sit up on their own for over seven years now and I just have to pick my battles...I take Christmas pictures, but pumpkin patch...never.

So, in honor of international friends in America during autumn...Hyeong-Sook and I decided an after-school excursion to the pumpkin patch was needed.

First, I had to find orange shirts for everyone...remember, I don't love orange. So, Julia had three to choose from. Alyssa actually wore hers. Hunter has one but I couldn't for the life of me find it...until we got home and it miraculously appeared on top of the dryer...all neatly folded. He had gold. Palmer doesn't have one...red worked fine. Since Palmer and Hunter were wearing other fall colors...Julila chose brown...not one of the three orange ones. Clothing issue...settled. Remember, I chose my battles.

Then, I had to pack lunches for the girls keeping in miind that they needed to remain clean all day...Julia opted to change after school in the car...Alyssa promised me she would stay clean. This is where my prayers for the day were focused...shallow, I know, but I was on a mission for the perfect picture.

Hunter remained shirtless for most of the day...kept it simple! Palmer decided to "christen" Hyeong-Sook and his red outfit as we were on the way out the door...oh well, it'll dry...we were on a mission!

If or when you get all your children at the same spot...in the colorful, decorated patch with many, many distractions...you then have to catch them all smiling and looking at the camera at the same time. Sometimes, it's just nice that everyone's face is (almost) showing!
Julia practiced her soccer skills by kicking pumpkins...
Alyssa ended up with pumpkin guts inside her shoes...and for a child who looks for any excuse to take off her shoes (and clothes) this was quite an ordeal...
Hunter ended up tumbling in a pumpkin avalanche...falling...falling...falling...
Palmer couldn't sit up very well on his own...we couldn't figure out how to get him with a pumpkin by himself...so we decided to buy a pumpkin, take it home and try again...
...where he survived a near fatal pumpkin-stem stabbing...
Jung-Woo threw hay at everyone making it "snow"...quite a scene for those allergic to hay...

The Farm Patch may never be the same again! But through it all Hyeong-Sook and I persevered...
...and got some pretty perfect pictures! I think I'll do it again next year.