Saturday, January 23, 2010

Rewards













"Far from love the Heavenly Father
Leads the chosen child;
Oftener through realm of briar
Than the meadow mild,
Oftener by the claw of dragon
Than the hand of friend,
Guides the little one predestined
To the native land."
-Emily Dickinson



So often in the news I hear of tragedies far removed from ourselves and my heart whispers a prayer. Death of the old or injured or sick or abused....happens everyday.

What am I to think though, when that tragedy falls upon me and the ones I love? My thoughts spin around trying to make sense of it. My mind, tainted by sin and worldly perspectives attempt to answer why? How could this be? Things like this do not happen so close to my circle"....I don't have to look very far though in my past to see that tragedy is close to home, quite often. In my own family history lies fatal accidents, murder, cancer, death of children, miscarriage, abandonment and adultery, I could go on. As much as the celebration of birth, marriage, and success is life, so are these hard things.

The truth is that I am looking for a reward. I am looking for good things to happen to me as I attempt to "do good" and "be good". I want the good life. Basically, I am looking for what many would say is good "karma." I am buying into the "if I put out good in the universe, it will come back to me" lie.

My human rationale says that living a "good" life should reap benefits and great rewards - here on earth. "If I work hard, I'll be successful." "If I avoid sin, I'll be blessed." Even some false teachers of the gospel teach health, wellness and success if you avoid sin. They skirt around scripture, twisting it and avoiding biblical truth. They teach lies of prosperity and happiness in life if I think good, positive thoughts. "Rewards await you if you stay steadfast in your faith." says popular tv preacher, Joel Osteen, in his new book. Read closer, in context and one sees the rewards he speaks of are earthly: "to accomplish your goal, to land your dream job, to find love, to restore your health." He promises the reader "You are closer than you think to a better life, a richer relationship, a healthier body." Using his reasoning to answer a tragedy that falls upon us leads to a "what did I do to deserve this?" line of questioning. This false teacher is nothing more than a motivational speaker who attempts to use biblical reference to support his claims.

If I trust this man's teaching, how do I rationalize when bad things do happen to good people?! Were they not faithful enough? Did they not have enough positive thoughts? Teachers like him ask me to look inside myself for hope, to have faith in self. Looking to self will lead me to a great void.

Earthly blessings and yes, tragedies, fall on all men, as does the rain. I must stop looking for reward HERE! I won't find it. I can't "make it-whatever it is- happen". Neither will you. I must work for the King and His kingdom, without the expectation of fame, fortune and good health. Sickness, death and tragedy WILL befall me AND the ones I love.

My hope MUST be in Christ alone. Period. His perfect work, His salvation, His redemption. His grace. There is NOTHING I can do to create or earn a reward. Rewards are God's to give and His reward is perfect and eternal. His reward cannot be found in this life! Until I believe this with my whole heart and live like I believe it, I will not have peace. Again, my reward will not be found here and I should not be surprised when I don't happen upon it or when I seek it and don't find it. When I seek Christ though, I will find Him and His heavenly reward WILL be great...not because I have earned it, but because He earned it, and gave it to me because I simply believed - and even that (belief) is a gift. There I must rest.


My hope, my faith, my reward can only be found in Christ. All other routes will render me lost.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing beside you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
Psalm 73:25-26



The Lord will reward the believer, but the Lord's promise of reward is not on this earth. Jesus said "Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven..." (Matthew 5:12) I MUST stop "doing and being good" in order to attain an earthly reward, I must try (and often fail) to "do good and be good" out of a love for the One who gave His life for me, trusting only Him. Then, only then, will I find the true reward - one day.


In Christ Alone

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone! who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied -
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine -
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand.
(Keith Getty and Stuart Townshend)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Chapter Ten: The Hidden Places of My Heart


Walk through the checkout line at the grocery store and you're bound to see celebrities in rare form. The media delights in their lifestyles of airbrushed beauty and social stature and boy, do they revel when celebrities are caught in true - human- form. Whether it's their out-of-shape bodies, makeup-free faces or especially when their misdeeds are exposed, the media looks for every opportunity to sell them out. This culture has taught me to value the way I appear. I attempt to look presentable (most days), I'm self conscious about how I and my home look, I have been sucked into the world of HGTV and the Style network, trying to learn new ways to make my home and myself more attractive.

I had an opportunity recently to put on my best face and home. My husband and I hosted the staff Christmas party for the church where my husband works. I buzzed around cleaning nooks and crannies that no one would really see, rearranged furniture to make room for tables, turned on the tree lights, lit candles, and turned on music to set the mood. Wassail was simmering on the stove and since we were hosting the party, everyone else was bringing the food. Though I had checked off several items on my to do list, the hour of the party quickly approached and I was nowhere close to the finish line. I wanted our home to appear clean and orderly in every room, every corner. Rushing into each room, I began stacking clean clothes that needed to be hung and anything else laying about into my closet, cramming mail from the last three weeks into junk drawers, and wiping down countertops for the last time before the guests arrived. When they started arriving, I began to relax and enjoy myself. After they'd all gone home, there really wasn't a lot to do: a few dishes to wash, trash to be taken out, and the tables could wait to be taken down.

It wasn't until a couple days later that I began to notice what a mess I had made in the hidden places of my home: drawers, closets, the garage and utility room. When I opened the pen/junk drawer which usually is somewhat orderly with little trays containing the chaos, I couldn't see one pen or any semblance of anything that my eyes are used to - all I saw was paper: kids' artwork, mail, coupons, receipts - a stack of messiness. Opening my modest walk in closet, I could not get to my shoes for the laundry basket brimming with clean clothes needing to be put away. Stepping into the laundry room I was crowded by all my canvases and art projects that I had carelessly removed from my office turned party dining area. If you knew my dad, you'd know that he always has a joke to tell and always an analogy to make. I am his daughter.....and well, in the innards of my home, I couldn't help but think of how it was such a telling picture of my heart and my life.

During the week, after I rev myself with coffee, get my older two kids off to school and make way for the shower (if I make it there that day). I attempt to make myself presentable to the world (and since I don't even get out of the car picking my children up from school and a day out is going to the grocery store - this makes total sense, of course). I put on concealer to mask the dark circles that have come with having four children and my morphing into a night owl. Then I hide blemishes and tired eyes behind makeup and the hair that I somewhat have under control with my new professional grade straightener (a Christmas gift). I make my bed, presenting the illusion of order, and proceed to get my children in presentable condition.

Sunday mornings are a different ballgame. Since my husband works for the church, he leaves early most Sunday mornings and I must get myself and my four children out the door on time alone. One Sunday morning I walked into church and another mom commented that I was the picture of calm.....I chuckled. If she only knew what a mess my mind and heart, oh and my mouth, had been that morning snipping as I herded my children, having wardrobe issues, getting everyone into the van late, "low fuel" light blinking. Internally, I was not a good girl, getting mad at my husband for not being there to help (when he wasn't even there to defend himself) and thinking of not so nice words to describe the other drivers in my way on the way to church... Yeah, I'm calm - now. I get to drop all of my children off in nursery and Sunday school for two and a half hours...yeah, I'm calm- now, but what a mess I really am and what business do I have being at church?!

I put myself in a pit all on my own - that's why I need Christ. At the end of the day, it does NOT matter what other people in my path that day saw. I can usually present the world a polished picture of calm, but I'm pretty sure I violate all of the Ten Commandments close to daily, maybe not always with my hands or even my words, but so very often with my heart. At the end of the day and even at the end of my life, I realize that it's just me and my Lord. He knew the depths of my messiness, the dirtiness of my sin before I was even conceived, yet He provided His son to save me. Saved by faith alone, I am covered by the righteousness of Jesus Christ and do not have to depend on my doing good for salvation. What a relief?! How often I forget and get lost in the miry clay. I lose my faith and my hope in one instant when things don't go my way.

My struggles pale in comparison to so many, but this hiding we all do is what keeps us from loving one another. My pride keeps me from sharing my true self from family, friends, my husband, and inhibits my end of my relationship with my Lord. That same pride keeps me from reaching out to be "real" with others, keeping conversation at a surface level. I have learned to do that well.

All this pretending and hiding from the truth of who I really am reminds me of a lady who hid not so long ago. Her life has encouraged me so. My struggles pale in comparison to hers, yet she and I do share a hope in Christ who will never fail us and who will search the depths of my heart and yours, if you will, and redeem and sanctify those messy, dirty, hidden spaces in our hearts.

If you've ever read the humble, yet heroic story of Corrie ten Boom in The Hiding Place, you've given yourself a small glimpse into the face of fear that gripped Europe in WWII. Corrie ten Boom bravely participated in an intricate underground hiding program that helped save over 800 Jews. She was eventually arrested and taken to a concentration camp. More amazing than her courage, was how she clung to her faith in unimaginable circumstances and brought hope to so many as she shared the gospel with her prison mates, often reading scripture from a Bible that had been smuggled in. Corrie grew in her hope and was even thankful for the fleas that discouraged the guards from entering their barracks so they could study God's word together. How I wish I were so brave! Corrie ten Boom not only physically saved individuals from certain death and despair by hiding them in the small spaces of her home, her spirit was saved by an unwavering faith hidden in the corners of her heart.

She said it best when she claimed "There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still." How I do believe it to be true!



Stay tuned as I fill in the gaps and connect the dots for His perfect story of my life....



Made Alive in Christ
Ephesians 2:1-10
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.


1 Chronicles 28:9
And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Chapter Nine: Plans


The arrival of 2010 has especially provoked thought about what the future holds for my life. I feel a renewed sense of being. For this quiet girl who often, I admit, sees the glass half empty, I am unusually hopeful. I've never been much on making New Year's resolutions: getting in shape, losing weight, doing x y z, but this year I am actually going to make a list and write it down. A friend has started a blog on her 101 things to do in 1001 days, so following suit, I am doing the same - although I have only 78 goals so far for 2010. You can view my overly ambitious list of plans for 2010 here and I will add them as I imagine my (hopefully) better 2010 self.

After all the flurry of Christmas guests, parties and concerts, and over ten days of sickness that five out of six of us experienced, my family has had a few days to relax and my husband, the worship director of our church whose December is always full, is taking off for several days. We decided to experience a Saturday night worship service at Perimeter Church in Atlanta and were privileged to hear Steve Brown speak. One of the anecdotes he used in his sermon was this story about a man whose wheelchair became stuck to a semi and was driven down the interstate at high speeds for a few miles before the truck was stopped. Brown's point that I took away was that this life is not about self...

Considering all the plans I've made in the past and those I'm currently making, I am reminded that this life, this existence is solely about the coming of God's kingdom - the semi in the story. I am but a vapor... Now, the plans I make and keep during this moment of my life can and will often be thwarted and redirected by my Lord who, I deeply believe, is sovereign over every detail. In my bones I realize His perfect ordination of all life is one of those mysteries the human mind cannot comprehend and does not have even a syllable to describe. For doubters, or those convinced of their choosing Christ, all I can say is that out of my own sinful heart I would never have chosen Christ and firmly believe He dragged me away from being a child of wrath and carried me to life as His child. That being said, I have never experienced a breath that felt like I was a marionette made for His entertainment, but am confident that I was crafted for His very specific purposes even when I cannot always convince myself of that!

My current plans for 2010 are reminding me of my life just a few short years ago. In August of 2006 we welcomed our third child, a girl, into our hearts and into our little two bedroom apartment. We were content in that limited space, but the apartment complex required us to move into a larger apartment because of occupancy rules. Once again, in the rain we moved. This time we could see our new back door from our old one. The new apartment, also very beige, was a spacious three level apartment with three bedrooms.

Still carrying a bit of baby weight, anxiously waiting to see if history would repeat itself and nursing would melt away the extra pounds and then some, I bought a LBD - a little black dress that I'd found on a clearance rack. I bought it in the size I hoped to fit in soon. I was anxious to wear it, and even more anxious to feel comfortable in my own skin again. When my little one was right around eight or nine months, thankfully, I was able to start wearing my pre-pregnancy wardrobe again and was excited to model my new dress. We went to the beach and I didn't even try to avoid the dreaded swimsuit. Well, basically I was able to wear those old clothes for all of two minutes when I started feeling sick and realized I was indeed, pregnant again. I cried. While my husband and I knew we wanted more children, I was still nursing my baby and was totally taken by surprise at this interruption of my plans to have my body to myself again.

After a couple of days, I warmed up to the idea of a new baby - coming soon- and became excited to meet this new little one. This time I wasn't afraid to tell family (both my husband's and mine) who had in the past when receiving the news of a new baby cried, accused us of being selfish, or shaken their heads..I wasn't afraid because it was ultimately what I wanted and it certainly helped that the news was delivered over the phone since we were nine hours away from them.

Upon my first visit back to the doctor to confirm the new pregnancy, the baby could not be located on the ultrasound. My doctor said to come back in a couple weeks and "hopefully nothing sad was happening." Those two weeks slowly passed and the morning of my appointment I was ashen and running to hang my head over the toilet. I had no doubt that I was experiencing a morning sickness unlike I'd ever known. My doctor and I were relieved when the baby, heart beating swiftly was seen clearly on the ultrasound.

A few months into the pregnancy we decided to get out of our lease when we found a nice home - not apartment- to rent. The gracious landlord stretched our first month's rent out over a year, letting us essentially skip the first month's rent so we could pay to get out of our lease - a real blessing. Rent was less than the apartment and another big bonus was that the house needed to be painted, my husband had experience as a painter and the landlord let us choose the colors and even paid for the paint!

We welcomed our fourth child and third girl into our lives just seventeen months after our third child had been born. All this while I was homeschooling the older two and working as a freelance graphic designer to supplement our income. We really felt at home amid the chaos in our family and at home in Charlotte......for a little while.


Stay tuned as I fill in the gaps and connect the dots for His perfect story of my life....

Romans 8:28-39
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
"For your sake we face death all day long;we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither 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.




Ephesians 2:1-9
1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.