Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Stained glass transparency

Churches are supposed to be a place where we can drag our aching souls to for comfort and encouragment. We shouldn't have to paint on a "all's well smile" because that's what we see on the surface of most faces when we get there. Yes, that's what we want for ourselves - to have it "all together", to be "on top of things", to be in control... but it does no good to pretend it.

Here's a quick guesstimate: I would say that I feel happy, secure, "on top of things" only about 10% of the time that I go to church. And boy am I ready to praise Him in worship on those wonderful rare occasions! But the rest of the time I go for succor to my heart, to call on Him to raise me out of whatever gloomy circumstances or attitudes I am struggling with. And it's no guarantee depending on other church-goers to lift me up. Yes, sometimes God uses them to encourage me, but other times He uses the pastor's message, or the lyrics of a song, or He prompts me to go find someone else who is hurting, and encourage them. Through helping others, you will find your own heart lifted. Then the stained-glass masquerade becomes stained glass transparency, allowing the light of truth to shine through.

What churches needs to show the world is not an image of "aren't we happy, on top of things, and in control!" but an image of "oh what joy is ours because God is in control! God is sovereign over both the heavens and the earth, over every part of our lives. We are so thankful that we can bring our troubles and worries and fears to Him and receive His peace in exchange."

I can't help repeating it. We don't have to be in control or pretend that we've got it all together. GOD IS IN CONTROL. So perfectly expressed in:

Romans 8:28 "And we know that God works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose."

Psalm 34:19 "A righteous man may have many
troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all."

A relationship with God, through prayer, reading the Word, and worship; and fellowship with other believers that have a relationship with God, results in balance between security and transparency. A heart that knows it can find security in the One who is in control, and can transparently share the hard things in his/her life because he/she trusts in God and can even praise Him from the very middle of a trial.

Just as the devil loves to spread the lie of the "happy plastic people" at church, he also loves to spread the lie "are you so certain that God in is control? After all, he certainly didn't seem to have much control over the situation in Haiti. Certainly if he was in control, he would have prevented such devastation and suffering as a result of that earthquake. Or if you MUST believe that he is in control, then you have to admit that he's a bit harsh. How could a good God allow such a thing? Is this a God that is really worthy of your allegiance?"

To combat these lies, it is so important to study the Word for yourself so that you KNOW - not because someone else has told you, but because you've seen it in black and white yourself - the real answers to these tempting questions that Satan raises. This is also where it so helpful to have access to other believers who are transparent enough to share their testimonies of how God worked in their lives. How He turned suffering into joy, ashes into beauty, tears into songs of praise (paraphrasing Isaiah 61:3).

This Tuesday's quote was chosen by the contributers to In Other Words. This week's host site, Writing Canvas, has a post about this quote and anyone wanting to participate can ponder on the quote and write about about it on their blog, then link your post to the host blog.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Valentines and resolutions

We had some old friends of ours move into the neighborhood, and I've been meaning to give them a "welcome" gift for months now... well finally Valentine's presented the opportunity - and a good opportunity for my kids to learn that Valentine's just isn't about getting candy and cute holographic cards from schoolmates.

On Saturday we made a heart-cut out cookies and pink striped fudge and wrapped up a bunch of bowls for gifts. We tied on gift cards with a heart & a cross and one of my favorite quotes about love "Only love can be endlessly divided and still not diminish". Then Sunday we delievered our pink goodies to a dozen of our neighbors and a few other friends & elderly folks from our church that don't get out much anymore.

One of my favorite proverbs is 11:25: "He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed." And it's so true - to see the surprised pleasure of our neighbors receiving their Valentines was just as much pleasure for me. And hopefully for the girls, too.

The idea to reach out to our neighbors was a direct result of praying over my goals for this year. So one month after I set these goals for myself, here's my first update:

1) Psalm 119:164 "seven times a day I praise You" - my seven days are few and far between. This is by far the resolution I need to concentrate the most on, because it has such an impact on everything else I do.

2) Bible study: it’s my turn later this morning to lead the study of Colossians at Mom’s Bible study. The topic is salvation! – a heady subject – esp. since we have had new people coming – they weren’t there last week but I pray they might be this week, I have no idea if these ladies are saved or not. On Monday, I spent the entire morning in the Word preparing for this (no school on Monday so I stayed home with the kids). What riches are ours when we really dig into the Word! I discovered all sorts of interesting things looking up cross-references to the preeminence of Christ as expressed in Colossians 1:15-18. One thing I discovered was that both God and Christ have the title "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" in the Bible. Another powerful proof of the deity of Christ. Also, a wonderful parallel to Colossian 1:15-18 and John 1:1-5 is found in Hebrews 1:3. I also discovered a new passage on salvation that I hadn't really noticed before: 2 Corinthians 4:2-6 (see below).

3) Memorizing verses. So, I decided to memorize 2 Corinthians 4:2-6 (and 7 too) after I discovered it. I think I am being led to memorize verses on salvation right now, because of the Fam Club. I was able to fast from 10:30 to 5:30 this past Saturday, which included a big chunk of time in prayer. It wasn't easy - it was a constant battle not to give into the desire for a little snack, to get back to prayer instead. But it was so worth it. Also during that time I read over all the Fam Club posts since 2006 when it started, full of encouraging testimonies from others who have fasted and prayed for family members and saw the Lord answer their prayers!

2 Corinthians 4:2-7 ...by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. 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 of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
What I do with these verses is turn them into a prayer: Lord, please unveil the gospel so ____ can see, make Your light shine in their hearts so that they may see Your glory in the face of Christ...

4) Pray more with my family (and for my family). I found a children’s lesson on love, based on 1 Cor 13, for Valentine’s day, to help my children understand the Biblical definition of love. Together we made two lists as we read these verses, a list of "what love is" and a list of "what love is not" and then prayed for each other on one specific quality. I am doing much better at remembering to pray with the girls before bed time.

5) Pay more attention to others around me. Keep my eyes open for people at church to encourage. I actually introduced myself to two people at church I haven't met before. This is a big thing for me to step outside of my comfort zone like this. But how will I ever experience the blessing of seeing someone come to the Lord, or a new believer to grow in the Lord through discipleship, if I don't step outside my comfort zone more? Speaking of comfort zones and how hard they are to get out of, that's kind of related to issues of insecurity, which I have still have loads of. I just wanted to mention that on the livingproofministries blog Beth Moore is doing a So Long Insecurity discussion group. I've had this book less than a week and I'm almost finished reading it. It is good, good stuff. I'll definitely be blogging about this one more!

6) Live a better story, more meaningful scenes. Okay, so finally I did something here! - my little Valentines for neighbors project with the girls. Now Lord can you give me another idea?

7) Lose weight/eat healthier/turning to you instead of food. Ever since my birthday, this has been absolutely dismal. I had lost 4 pounds, and I bet anything I have gained it right back. I am only getting out to walk about once a week. But now that the days are getting longer, I should be able to get out more.

8) Writing – other than this blog, I haven't written anything since February started. I should go back to my 200 words a day... even though the 200 words were usually weak or need to be completely cut or re-written, at least it kept in me in writing mode.

9) Get to places on time. This one is marginally better, but let's see if I actually get to Bible study on time this morning... since it's my turn to lead I had better!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A fiesta, a fairy cake, and a fortieth birthday

The "Fiesta" part of this tale of a birthday is that my husband suggested we go to Casa Bonita's for my birthday dinner. Now this place is definitely not the height of elegance - rather, it's the height of kitsch (wikipedia: an inferior, tasteless copy of an extant style of art). I do love elegance, but I think I might actually love kitsch even more, if it's fun, and Casa Bonita's is definitely fun. This is a giant Mexican restaurant in Denver with an indoor waterfall (though you can't quite see it in this picture), cliff divers, live mariachi bands and strolling guitarists, pinatas, and guys in ridiculous pirate and gorilla suits chasing each other around. Oh, and all you can eat sopapillas dripping with honey. Yum.

It's also sentimental kitsch because B. brought me here 11 years ago for my birthday, when we were dating, and we got our picture taken together in period costume with him as a bankrobber and me as his showgirl accomplice (still have that picture).

Here is a picture of the girls at our dinner table, raptly watching a fire-juggler.
It was so much fun to introduce our kids to this family tradition. Though I don't normally like eating out with all four kids (it's expensive, and they don't sit still, and the little ones make a mess), this was the perfect place to go with kids. Their eyes were like saucers as we explored the entire restaurant, from the fake monsters inside Black Bart's cave to the bridge under the waterfall to the fake caverns with stalagtites.

So the actual day of my birthday was all about my kids, but I was just fine with that. Especially since B. also had set aside some money for me to do some "retail therapy" - meaning that buying something nice would surely ease the pain of turning 40. Well it just so happened I have been looking all winter for some new coats for the girls, and they've all been either too expensive or too ugly, but of all times to go shopping - on my birthday - we discovered an 80%-off coat sale at Penney's and I got all four girls new coats. And they were SO excited. Dreamer just giggled the whole way to the cashier's with her new coat. Blaze still won't take hers off. When we get home I have to tell her to go hang her coat up because she just wants to keep wearin it. Really, can you find a better birthday present than that?

Now for the "Fairy" part of the birthday. The next evening, I had a small dinner party with four of my dearest friends, Karen, Nicole, Heather and Sarah. Sarah offered to make me a cake, and she went all out - using a woodland fairy theme (knowing my fondness for fantasy and fairytales). The cake was a mouthwatering chocolate ganache tree stump, decorated with tiny fairies, flowers, mushrooms, snails, lady bugs, butterflies and candy rocks.

Karen stayed for the whole weekend, and we had great fun watching movies (No Greater Love), discussing books (she and Martha gave me a copy of the Ragamuffin Gospel which I had previously borrowed... I will be blogging about that book soon), and making necklaces - long ago she made a beautiful bead necklace and I wanted another one, so I dragged her to the Bead Shop and had her advise me on the design of a new necklace. It turned out even better than I imagined.

So the last part of the birthday is the "Fortieth" part, which I wasn't looking forward to, but how can one complain with such a wonderful family, wonderful friends, and my faith to bring me joy along the way? I also learned something important in the week leading up to my birthday, too - something I wish hadn't taken me 40 years to learn, but at least it didn't take longer. But I'm saving that for another blog.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The FAM club

The FAM club stands for "Fast-a-Meal" and it's a 28 day challenge for the Month of February that was started by the Girl Talk blog of three Christian sisters and their mom. The challenge is to fast one meal a week for the salvation of family members. In my case, my parents.

Several times in the past year my heart has been broken for my father, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's and even though his symptoms are very mild so far, he has completely withdrawn from the outside world and except for rare moments, from me as well. When I try to share my faith and hope with him, he cuts me off. My mother on the other hand is full of life and adventure, and has the most non-judgmental heart I have ever known. She says she believes in Jesus, yet I see no evidence of any sort of relationship or sense of closeness with Jesus. She is quick to change the subject when I bring it up.

It's February 4th and I have yet to fast a meal. But I have 3 days left. Here is an encouraging excerpt from yesterday's blog post at Girl Talk, which is actually quoted from John Piper's comments on 2 Thess 1:11-12:

“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul prays for us—and I pray for you even as I write this—that God will “fulfill every resolve for good” that we have. This means that it is good to have resolves. God approves of it. It also means that our resolving is important, but that God’s enabling us to “fulfill” the resolves is crucial. Paul wouldn’t pray if God’s help weren’t needed. “The heart of man plans [resolves!] his way, but the Lord establishes [fulfills!] his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

But it matters how we resolve. When Paul says, “every resolve for good and every work of faith,” he is not describing two different acts. He is describing one act in two ways. It is a “resolve for good” because we will it. It is a “work of faith” because we depend on Jesus to give us power to fulfill it. That’s how we resolve—by faith in Jesus.

So Paul says that the fulfilling of the resolve is “by his power.” That’s what we are depending on. That’s what we are looking for when we resolve. We are looking to Jesus who promised to be with us and help us. “I know that through . . . the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance” (Philippians 1:19)

I found these comments especially encouraging as I have made myself so many goals for this year, and in the past week I have failed almost completely with all of them. But that was because I had temporarily forgotten the "by His power" part of it. (One of the 3 deadly D's got me: distraction). By your mighty power, my Lord and Savior!