What is Sin Nature? – Questions to Consider – Part 3

As I’ve mentioned before, topics come to me in a multitude of ways. I can read them in a book, hear them in a conversation, see them in the outdoors or in a store, or the words just appear in my head. Today’s topic for my “questions to consider” series came down two of those paths. The first one was from my writing inspiration book. The prompt was “So many people are selfish, greedy, and unfriendly…” I’ve already lived enough life to know this is a true statement. And it can be discouraging when I do my best to be kind, and it’s not reciprocated. The other path was two words appearing in my head–sin nature. I’d already been thinking of the depravity in today’s world with the shootings in Pennsylvania and with all of the divisive and rhetoric that is so prevalent especially with tomorrow’s elections in the United States. It makes me wonder how God puts up with us. It also brought me to today’s question–what is sin nature and why does it still exist in this world? I guess that’s two questions. 🙂 But, I think we’ve all wondered why bad things happen in this world and where God was in the midst of them. I’m going to attempt to answer this today, but I’ll go ahead and warn you I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think anyone does except God.

First, I think a simple definition is in order. From gotquestions.org, “The sin nature is that aspect in man that makes him rebellious against God. When we speak of the sin nature, we refer to the fact that we have a natural inclination to sin; given the choice to do God’s will or our own, we will naturally choose to do our own thing.” To translate this into language we can all understand, we are all born bad. It can’t be seen in the youngest of us, but it can definitely be seen in toddlers who we take a lot of time teaching to share and to tell the truth. It can be seen much more as we get older.

We can’t overcome this by ourselves which is why it says this in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. “Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.” God knew we would need to hear His teaching continually for it to take hold in our lives.

Writers in the New Testament also talked about sin and sin nature. From Romans 5:12, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” I John 1:8 is a clear example to us. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” There are many more examples, too many for this post, but I think the point is clear. Sin is present in each of us.

Only one person hasn’t had a sin nature. Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect life, died on the cross, and was brought back to life. What He did is the reason we can be born again. We inherit a new nature as it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here.” To consider this has happened as a result of my faith gives me great joy.

But, we also need to know that our sin nature doesn’t disappear when we receive Christ as our Savior. Bad things still happen in our world, and Christians can still do bad things because of sin. Knowing this in our hearts can help with the questions of illness, abuse, greed, broken marriages, fighting, and any other sin that is out there.

We have help though. Help from God. He sends His Holy Spirit to take up residence in each believer and supplies the power we need to overcome the pull of our sin nature. I’m reminded of what it says in I Corinthians 10:13. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. 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 you can endure it.” He will help us with sin if we only ask Him.

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking–Christians and non-Christians alike. You’ve seen all these people claiming to be Christians doing bad things. You’ve seen people who aren’t Christians acting better than some Christians. What’s the difference? Why should you even consider this faith? While I wouldn’t presume to know someone’s standing with God (That’s between them and God.), I would look at their deeds–what they do. These deeds are not a requirement to become a Christian–only accepting Jesus and His love can do that, but you’re supposed to see them afterwards. There are many examples in Scripture, but I think the one in the book of Matthew is the best. Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Genuine relationship with God should make us want to glorify Him and not ourselves.

No one will be perfect in this though. The Bible says that we will struggle with our old nature as long as we are in this world. But, those who are in genuine relationship with God will come to Him in repentance for what they have done wrong each and every time. For those innocents who have been touched by the evil of this world, God heals. I know He does. It will be in His time though, not ours. That is our challenge–to trust our Lord and Savior through pain, suffering, and what we cannot see while showing His love for those who most need it.

God bless you all!

 

Questions to Consider – Part 2

It’s time for a second installment of “questions to consider.” Hopefully, you were able to read my first post, and it made you think. That is the point of this series–to make you think about what you believe and put those thoughts into action. It’s not about having the right or wrong answer. I freely admit I don’t know everything. I want this to be an opportunity to grow for everyone who reads these posts whether they consider themselves Christians or not.

With that being said, here is what brought me to the next question. I’ve said before that I first accepted Christ as Savior at the age of thirteen. I was pretty much a regular church-goer from then until I left the church in 2005 for reasons that were painful, but necessary. My husband and I considered ourselves Christians, but we thought we could make it on our own away from people who could possibly hurt us. God taught us, me especially, a lot during those years. Anyway, the following year we were faced with the question of whether to homeschool our kids. Our older son was academically advanced and having to wait for the rest of his class to catch up during the school day while the younger one was being bullied for his size in his first grade classroom. Both situations were not what we wanted for our kids so we pulled them out of public school. That year, and the first years we homeschooled, I faced questions about my faith and the political process in the United States. This leads to today’s question. Do we have to belong to a certain political party in order to be a Christian?

A thorny question, to be sure.  🙂 I know some people who would say yes, and I know others who would say no. Back in the early years of my homeschooling career, I would have said yes. Though I did not begin homeschooling for religious reasons, I still considered myself a Christian, and there were many people on Internet homeschooling message boards who were homeschooling for religious reasons. I got to know some of them, and they were great ladies. I started considering them friends.

But, 2006-2008 was also a period of tumult in my country. A historic political campaign was waged to elect Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States. There were many things he stood for I did not agree with, and when I said I did not agree, people called me racist. I did not want to be called racist so I decided to keep my mouth shut. But, that didn’t stop me from having the thoughts of disagreement. I was also hearing people  say that homeschooling would be curtailed if he was elected so I became afraid. My thoughts of fear turned into judgment. Judgment of anyone who did not think like me or act like me. I was really good at it. I was afraid of being judged so I turned into someone who judged others. It wasn’t where God wanted me to be.

From 2009-2010, God started us on the journey back to where He wanted me to be. First, my mother-in-law became ill, and we moved back to where she was to help take care of her. A right and noble thing to do, I was told. We thought so too. She ended up dying two months later. We were devastated. Many people told us how sorry they were, but there weren’t many people in my life who would let me be real with my grief. In fact, I had to hide mine a lot so I could take care of my husband and kids.

Two months later, we moved back to the city we had lived in at the beginning of our marriage for my husband to take a job. He started working, and I was at home with our boys who I was still homeschooling.. I got to know people, but those judgmental thoughts were still under the surface. I thought I had everything right because I was a Christian, and I should oppose anything that wasn’t a “Christian” belief. I didn’t even consider people on the “other side,” and I definitely didn’t think Jesus loved them either. I was able to keep my walls up and not show the bad things that happened to me so everyone should do that. Right? It was a person’s fault if they were poor or got sick. Right?

God didn’t think so, and He started showing  me in the fall of 2010 and hasn’t stopped. My husband got sick and had to have surgery. He had been sick before with his chronic condition and had even had surgery before, but this was the first time since both of his parents had passed away. I felt alone. My writing notebook was my only companion. He had the surgery and slowly recovered, but in the middle of that, he lost his job. We had no income. We burned through our savings quickly and then had to ask for help. It was humiliating. It was also surprising how quickly people turned on us. My husband  didn’t have a job so he must have done something wrong. Right? We were so sure we had been called to this path, and now, this happened. Don’t get me wrong. There were some people who did help us and who prayed for us. I will always be grateful. Finally though, we had to head west in the summer of 2011. Family said we could stay with them while my husband looked for work. The judgmental thoughts towards other people disappeared while we were going through this. Why wouldn’t they? We were being judged every day, and it wasn’t pleasant at all. It wasn’t my husband’s fault he had lost his job, but people were acting like it was.

Fortunately, we were only there for four weeks. Then, we drove back across the country for my husband to accept another job. It was good to have the chance to start over again. It wasn’t the end of bad times, of course. Within a few weeks, I lost my third child which sent me into a major depression. I felt dead and cold during that first winter. People were arguing about who was fit to run the country in the upcoming presidential election. Republicans and Democrats were slinging insults at each other. ‘Old, rich, and white’ was one insult. ‘Lazy and unwilling to work’ was another. I knew they all couldn’t be true. My husband had not been lazy and had wanted to work. There weren’t any jobs available. I wanted to know what had happened to my country and I especially wanted to know where God was.

The following summer my life changed, and I found God again in a church that didn’t judge. I was suspicious at first. It took me several months to let down my guard and let people see the real me. There were several things about this church that were different. It was multi-racial and had people with different opinions. I heard  more about grace than I had ever heard in my faith life. I started to get a sense of what living in community was supposed to mean. Flawed and messy, but still filled with love. It was a good thing for me to see.

In the five years since, I wish I could say I had gotten the hang of how this was supposed to work and was doing it perfectly. No, that hasn’t happened. 🙂 I’ve been afraid of being judged when my husband has been sick or out-of-work. I’ve felt inadequate because there are people who have more money than I do. I’ve felt disappointed because something I’ve felt called to was thwarted. I’ve felt like I didn’t fit in and still don’t feel like I fit in at times. And my country, it has gotten worse. People fight about everything and have drawn lines in the sand. We, as Christians, have forgotten that God wants us to be united in our differences to show Jesus’ love and not to draw lines in the sand. I have felt discouraged about the normalization of bullying behavior and name calling. Both sides have done it. No one can claim innocence.

But, here is the most important thing I’ve learned in the last five years. My God is bigger than my country. He is the one I hold onto during the bad times and the One I rejoice with during the good times. He is much more than any political party, and the reason I have to say that we don’t need to belong to a certain political party in order to be a Christian. Your mileage may vary, and that’s okay. But, for me to be a Christian and have a heart like God wants me to have, I cannot take the label of a political party. It interferes with the work God wants me to do.

May God bless you all today!

 

Forgiveness

For the last few weeks, the sermons at my church have been focused on each line of the Lord’s Prayer. We have been going through 40 Days of Prayer, and several members have been offered opportunities to write devotions, me included. I wrote my devotion on the line “Give us this day our daily bread,” which was our emphasis last week. I’m starting to think though after yesterday’s sermon, it would probably have been better if I had been able to write mine about forgiveness. Then, I remembered. I have a platform of my own so I decided to write about forgiveness today.

First, for clarity, I want to start off with the definition of forgiveness. Dictionary.com defines it as “act of forgiving; state of being forgiven.” This isn’t too clear about what forgiveness actually is so I decided to define the word “forgive”. Also, from Dictionary.com. Forgive means “to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve; to give up all claim or account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.); or to grant pardon to (a person).”

I quoted all of the definitions so it would be clear what Jesus wants us to do in the Lord’s Prayer. Here are the verses from Matthew 6 that specifically talk about this. Verses 12-15 say, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

So, there it is in black and white. God expects us to forgive others like He forgives us. It should be easy then, right? God said it, and we do it. No questions asked. No, that isn’t quite the case. At least, it’s not for me, and I’m guessing some of you find it hard too. I find it hard to forgive others because the things they do to hurt me are usually silly things. Things that would be considered childish in the adult world. So, I stuff them deep down inside. I’ve been told all my life that any hurts I have are not worth acknowledging or forgiving. In other words, making myself vulnerable was something to be avoided at all costs.

I find it’s the same way on the other end of the scale. Because I find it hard to be vulnerable in front of others, it’s hard for me to ask for forgiveness from others. Now, I’m not talking about everyday things like bumping into someone. I can ask forgiveness for those things easily. No, it’s the relationship damaging conflicts where I’m unable to stand up for what I believe in. There have been some people in my life who have given me heck for what I believe in, and we’ve said hurtful things to one another. (One of the reasons I never took debate in school.) Because I have such a hard time managing conflict, I have let the relationship dissolve. It hurts, but I haven’t been able to figure out a way where I can agree to disagree with someone and maintain the relationship. (Remember, I have been told all my life that my words didn’t and don’t matter.)

The nearest I’ve been able to come to asking for or receiving forgiveness is by writing it down, handing it to the person involved, and walking away. I know it’s the coward’s way out, but, in a small way, it’s a victory for me because I’ve been able to do what God asks for in this prayer. Does it change the relationship? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Everything I’ve heard about forgiveness say that it’s supposed to change you more than the other person. And it has changed me for good sometimes and for bad at others because I tend to withdraw. I tell myself that no one could possibly want to spend time with me because I’m such a terrible person. Like I said last week, “I know I’m hard to get along with. I know I’m prickly, and I find it hard to talk to people.” I’ve dropped out of groups because I haven’t wanted to face people. I’ve guess I’ve internalized every non-lesson I was ever taught about conflict.

Hopefully, in my words, you have found something to help you with your own forgiveness journey. Forgiveness is hard, and it’s even harder to ask for in person. When you’ve been told all your life that your feelings don’t matter and that vulnerability is a no-no, you’re not inclined to even try. I know I matter to Jesus, and you do too. He is the one who gives us the power to forgive. I just wish I knew I mattered to other people so asking in person for forgiveness wouldn’t be so hard. God’s blessings on you all today!

 

 

Getting Along with People

I tend to leaf through the pages of my writing prompt book after I’ve read a particular day’s entry. I use my wandering to get ideas  for the day’s writing, blog topics, or even things God might be leading me to as I live in the now and not yet of God’s Kingdom. I found one today that pierced my heart, and knew I had to write about it. Here’s the prompt. “I just can’t seem to get along with anyone…”

I’ve felt like this a lot recently, and the words written with the prompt say this is a common thing for writers. I was somewhat reassured by that, but even though it’s a common thing, I still have the longing for deep relationships. It’s a longing God gives all of us. It seems though that some of us are better at it than others with me being at the not so good end. I decided to write about this and what we can all do to help today because there have to be more people who experience this problem than just me.

First, have we listened, truly listened, to a person who is trying to talk to us? I have had many conversations in my life with people who are looking at everyone else, but me during the conversation. It’s made me wonder if I’m really that bad to talk with.  I’ve also had people who can’t wait to get their own words out when we’re talking. It’s made me wonder if my own words even matter. It’s also made me more likely to write my words down than to say them because the written word helps me remember how I felt about something and helps me to be honest. I found a meme yesterday with this quote that I wanted to share. “Listen and Silent are spelled with the same letters.” It makes one think, doesn’t it? 🙂

Then, there’s walking up to a conversation that stops while I’m there and almost immediately starts back up when I leave. It’s made me wonder if I’m the one being talked or gossiped about. This is especially true if I know the people involved are part of a clique who I’m not well-acquainted with.

Funny story with the statement in the last paragraph. The other day I saw a cartoon with someone in the bed about to mentally go over every conversation they had that day and wonder about all the things they should have said. Because, I do that. Every single night. I give myself mental pats on the back if something went well, and I castigate myself if it didn’t. I shared the cartoon on my Facebook page, and others told me they did the same thing. It was a small comfort.

Finally, there’s walking into a room full of people and wondering how I’m going to fit in. It is something that terrifies me enough that I’ve almost quit doing it. I’ll get somewhere early so I can be the first one there. I’ll decide not to go somewhere at all to avoid it. Or I’ll just stand on the outside looking in. It’s not a place where I want to be. It’s just the place where I am right now.

I write all this because not only has it been done to me; I’ve done it to others. We all have. Listen, I know I’m hard to get along with. I know I’m prickly, and I find it hard to talk to people. It’s why today’s prompt spoke to me. We have all found multiple ways to sin–towards God and each other. I get tired of hearing all the ways this world has turned on itself and ask Jesus if He could go ahead and come now. I don’t want to deal with all the rotten stuff and feeling like I’m alone, unwanted, unneeded, and unloved because I do. (By other people. I know my Lord and Savior loves me.) I’ve spoken before of how my husband has more of an impact with his life than I do. He is wanted and needed at our church whereas I’m not. But, I digress. We can’t get along with others under our own power. We just can’t. Jesus needs to be in our hearts, and we need to give each other grace. It’s as simple as that.

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

 

Invisible

I said last week I was going to be honest when I was in a dark time or a dark place again. Yesterday, I was in one of those places. With a dark heart and dark emotions. I was blocked from something I felt called to…again, and it’s made me wonder why I’m even here. My husband is valued for what he does. My children are valued for what they do. But, me, I’m the back-fill. I’m invisible unless no one else is available. And, if someone else is, too bad for me. I don’t know if that’s ever happened to you, but every time it’s happened to me, it has hurt down to my core.

I don’t even feel like I have anyone I can call when I struggle with faith questions or with service questions. I’ve yet to find anyone who truly understands or is even willing to listen to my hurting heart because it’s hard to understand my hurt.

I know I am valuable to God, and I know He is always there. I know that for a fact. If I didn’t, I could refer to John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God gave His Son for me. Jesus died on the cross for me. I believe that and accept it.

I believe in God’s grace too. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”

My Lord and Savior. I let regular people drive me away from Him once. I won’t ever do it again. But, then that begs the question. What about regular people? My son has a thing he likes to do when he drives somewhere. He parks at the furthest place he can park because he says he “hates people”. Now, what he hates is the way they drive, but it got me thinking. What if we all hated each other? Would anything ever get done for God? Would be willing to share about Jesus’ love? My guess is we wouldn’t be. Why would we want to if we hated each other?

God had something to say about that very topic too. I Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Then, there’s I John 4:8. “Whoever does not love God does not know God, because God is love.” Jesus says this in John 15:12. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” And, finally, there’s Romans 12:10. “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”

So, we’re supposed to love each other as well as love God? Yes, we are. But, can we do it on our own? I think I’ve demonstrated we can’t. We can’t unless we have Jesus in our hearts. He is the only one who can make it possible to love the people we might naturally hate.

But, what about the people who wound us, especially those who are in the church. I’ve been thinking about that recently. About people who have wounded me and my family in the past and people who have wounded me recently. The hurt can be overwhelming. It seems that once I’ve forgiven someone, another person steps in to take their place. And we’re supposed to forgive them over and over like it says in Matthew 18:21-22. “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'” That’s biblical language for forgiving over and over. 🙂

Being wounded can hurt though. It can hurt a lot. And it can help us know how Jesus must have felt on His way to the cross. He was carrying the sins of everyone in the world. I felt a knife slicing into me yesterday as I thought of how much it must have hurt Him. All of those hurts piled on top of mine. And those were just the ones I could imagine. Jesus had so much more.

So, I’ve been thinking and praying and talking to God about all of this. About how I feel wounded and invisible. About how I’m tired and wishing Jesus would come back. About how I wish I could do this church thing by myself and not have to deal with people. I’ve had the chance to crawl into my Father’s lap, and it has helped so much. It has helped me release my burdens and forgive the people involved. This is a good thing.

But, in case you might think I’ve opened myself up to being invisible again, my talking with God has also done something else. It has helped me realize that I need to be in prayer about everything I do in my life whether it be for the church or anywhere else. I want to be in God’s will and have His leading in my life. Just because someone thinks I should do something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s what God wants me to do, and that is something I need to remember whether the other person likes it or not.

Isn’t that what it boils down to? We need to care more about what God thinks of us than other people. So, when I feel invisible again, all I need to listen for is God’s voice. “I see you, daughter. I see you and appreciate your willingness to seek my heart in what I have called you to do.”

God’s blessings on you all today!

Slivers of Joy

For the past few months, I’ve been working through issues in my life and how they’ve related to my faith. I’ve blogged through a devotional and learned more about being brave. I’ve gained courage through doing things I wouldn’t have considered before. I’ve gone through the motions as I’ve worshipped, and I’ve been paralyzed as I’ve considered the question of what comes next. I’ve also considered joy and what that means to me as a Christian. But, all the parts of this didn’t coalesce until yesterday, and it makes better sense to me now.

First, I want to define joy. Wikipedia defines joy as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness” with such synonyms as delight, jubilation, triumph, exultation, rejoicing, happiness, glee, exhilaration, elation, and more. Dictionary.com defines joy as “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.” All of these words I’ve written down are what I grew up with as the expression of joy. Having joy meant I was happy with my life and how it was going.

When I became a Christian as a teenager, I applied this same meaning  to the Bible verses I read about joy. Verses such as John 15:11.  “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (emphasis mine)

Hebrews 12:1-2 is another example. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (emphasis mine)

Here is an example from the Old Testament. From Psalm 16:11: “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (emphasis mine)

Another one comes from Isaiah 55:12. “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (emphasis mine)

And finally, from Galatians 5:22-23. “But, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

I might have overdone it on the emphases and the examples, :-), but it was hard just picking these five. Scripture is full of examples calling us to joy. Joy in our lives. Joy in our Lord and Savior. Joy in our praise and worship. Because I equated joy with happiness, I thought that having Jesus in my life meant I was supposed to be happy all the time.

But, as we all know, we’re not happy all of the time, and I realized that as I grew into adulthood. I was confused and still am confused, to be honest, with these verses that say we’re supposed to be joyful. How does joy work when I’m not happy? The church doesn’t do a good job in teaching about this either. We come together to worship, and we don’t think we’re allowed to be sad. We think we’re supposed to be happy and reflect it in our worship. So, that’s what we do. We put up our shields, and we act like we’re happy and joyful even when we’re not. We talk about the people who look sad, and we might even admonish them for being sad. I’m guessing the reason we do this is because we equate happiness with joy, and God tells us to be joyful in Scripture.

In my life though, I’ve learned that joy and happiness can’t be the same. They can’t. Too much has happened to me for that to be true anymore. Why? My diagnosis of clinical depression, for starters. For years, my thoughts and feelings from this diagnosis made me feel worthless and think I was a failure at following Jesus. Another reason has been the amount of time I’ve spent in hospitals. Except for when I had my children, I was not in the hospital for happy reasons, and it was hard to be joyful. I made it through, but I’m not sure joy was a part of those times. At least, my definition of joy wasn’t. Then, there’s the grief. So much grief and loss since I became an adult. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, in-laws and other relatives of my husband, good friends, and people I consider to be family. All of which have hurt me down to my core. I’ve grieved during my life. We all have.

So, how does all of this work with joy? I’ve started first by being honest about my dark times and my dark places. I’ve worked on getting my physical symptoms straightened out, and I’ve spoken or written out words that needed to get out of my head. I’ve also been persistent through illness this year. We’ve not had much of it so far, and though my husband has had to make some lifestyle changes due to his diabetes, we’ve not had any hospital stays in 2018, knock on wood. 🙂 The final thing this year which has helped me to separate the definitions of happiness and joy has been, believe it or not, the grief I spoke of last week. I’ve grieved the loss of my college dad like I expected I would. I know I will see him again. That’s a fact. But, I will still miss him here. I will miss his wisdom and his musical talent. I will be sad he is not present with his family.

But, and this is a big but, I’ve begun to find slivers of joy in my heart in the last few days. This was the key to separating joy and happiness. I’m not happy David is gone or anyone else in my life, for that matter. I’m not happy when I get sick. I’m not happy with living in such a broken world. I do have joy though, and it has nothing to do with being happy. I have joy David is no longer in pain and is with our Lord and Savior. I have joy Jesus is with me even during the dark times. And I have joy God gave us all of our emotions. I think that’s the point about joy. It needs to be rooted deep in our hearts along with the other fruits of the Spirit so we will have a reservoir to draw from when the bad times come. Not to act happy when we’re not, but to know Jesus is our constant companion no matter what happens in our lives!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

 

 

What Comes Next – Faith

One more week. One more week until my older son is back at his college and my younger son starts classes at his college in our community. We’ve been enjoying the last days of summer, but I’ve also been setting up a schedule of sorts. There are things I want to accomplish in this next stage of life, but if I don’t know when I’m going to do them, they will have a tendency not to get done. One of those things is the way I practice my faith.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have been practicing my faith. I pray. I talk to God during the day. I read my Bible. I go to church and participate in the life of my faith community. But, there are things I can do differently with my faith now that I will have more time during the day. I’m actually looking forward to making some changes. I can’t see anything wrong with more time with God. Can you?

One of the things I’m planning to do is be more consistent with a focused prayer time where I’m sitting still with my Lord and Savior. I’m good at praying on the run. I’m consistent with praying at meal-time. I’ve even tried praying with someone in the moment when they ask for prayer. But, my focused prayer time has been hit or miss. Why, I ask myself? This is where it’s time for confession. Laziness, busyness, letting a task dominate the relationship, fatigue, and just plain sin. All of them interfere with staying focused on God and the things He wants to tell me. I want to be better with that going forward so I’m going to plan for it. Plan for my focused prayer times with God as I begin my days, I’m looking forward to hearing what He wants to tell me and growing in my faith in this next phase.

Another thing I’m looking forward to is having more time to serve others. I’m not talking about just at church either though having flexibility there will be nice. No, I’m talking about getting the chance to know my neighbors and showing them the love of Jesus. I’m talking about going out into my community and doing things outside of my comfort zone. I’m talking about demonstrating what it says in John 15:12-13. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Or how about in I Peter 4:8? “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” And, finally, from I John 4:7. “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” It’s all about love, isn’t it, as we serve, and that is why I’m looking forward to the chance to widen my circle.

Finally, I’m excited about the chance to learn more about my faith through the reading and studying I plan to do. I want to have different topics to write about for this blog and to share what I learn. This next season will be different for all the parts of my life including my faith, and I want to reflect that in what I say and do.

Praying for us all to have the chance to be still before our Lord and Savior today and to know His best for us! God bless you!

Ordinary People

I knew I said I was only going to post once a week in this blog, but I have learned that when God gives me words, I need to write them down. Words have always helped me sort out this life of mine, and I don’t expect today’s topic to be any different.

Before I get into the topic, I feel like I need to issue a huge disclaimer. What I’m going to write about today is a composite of the experiences I’ve had over a lifetime and of the experiences friends have had in the church. It is not aimed at any one particular person, place, or thing. I’m writing it down so I can hopefully learn to do a better job of being a church member who lives in community with other believers and so church leaders might be able to get a better picture of those who are members of their churches.

So, what’s with the title? What do I mean when I say ordinary people? In relation to churches, this is what I’m thinking. Ordinary people are the people who teach a Sunday school class or sing in the choir. They might help in the nursery or fix the coffee. They might help with the youth group or pass the offering plate. Or they might be between titles, but faithfully show up every time there’s a meeting at church. Ordinary people are people who are the backbone of our churches, I would think.

I wanted to describe what I was thinking so you would understand the difference when I made my next statement. Ordinary people generally don’t have any decision-making power in the structure of churches or in big decisions that need to be made. Those decisions are generally left to church leadership which, for the purposes of this post, I would define as church staff, deacons, elders, shepherds, and leaders in men’s, women’s, youth, or children’s ministry. Some of these are more important than others in the decision-making process, but I think I’ve made the line definitive enough. There are ordinary people in churches, and there is church leadership.

Now, before I say anything else, let me say that I’ve done my best to pray for and support church leadership in each of the churches I’ve been a part of during my lifetime. It has the tendency to be a thankless job where not much appreciation is expressed. People tend to want to express criticism more than they do positive affirmation, and I know it has to be frustrating at times.

With that being said though, I think there are times church leadership doesn’t think that ordinary people care about their churches or are interested in growing in their faith. I can understand this. Some of us who are ordinary people reinforce that impression. They only come to Sunday morning worship and nothing else. They are not involved at all, and people don’t know who they are. They leave before the worship service is over. You get the idea. Some people just aren’t interested in investing in their church communities.

When church leaders see that attitude, it can give some of them the idea they can do whatever they want in their roles as church leaders. There have been many stories in recent years of a criminal nature where church leaders took advantage of their congregations. There are also churches where church leaders have hammered a decision through even though many people in their church were opposed to it. It wasn’t criminally minded, but it was a decision that divided the church. I’m sure some of these stories are familiar. Hearing them always breaks my heart because, not only has a group of Christians been taken advantage of, our witness to a hurting world has also been damaged.

It is not just those church leaders who might not ever have had Christ in their hearts to begin with who have had difficulties in leading. It is also those who rely on God for counsel and lead their churches through servant leadership. There can still be a divide between those who are leading as God has called them to and ordinary people. In the leaders’ eyes, there are always people who don’t give enough, serve enough, or do enough of whatever, me included. On the other side, there are ordinary people who don’t understand what church leadership wants to do and are too intimidated to ask questions or who are on their very last nerve for volunteering and don’t wish to volunteer for anything else. I believe there is a dance between the two groups with the relationship being good at times and at other times being not so good.

So, as an ordinary person in my church, there are some things I would like to remind church leadership of today. There are ordinary people who care about their churches and who pray for their churches. There are ordinary people who want to be involved in their churches, just not overloaded. And there are ordinary people who are just as sincere at seeking after Jesus as church leaders are. We all have our own stories as ordinary people who don’t need to boiled down to statistics. Praying we all do our part to make this relationship a good one!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

Broken Trust

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this summer as I’ve worked on what the next steps of my life are going to be. I’ve learned about being brave and all the facets that involves. I’ve also learned about how we are all inadequate if we don’t have Jesus in our lives. Today, I want to talk about trust and how easily it can be broken.

The first thing I did was a Scripture search on trust. There are many Scriptures that talk about trusting God. One of my favorites is Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Here is another one from Jeremiah 17:7. “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.” I also like this one from Hebrews 11:1 because even though the word trust is not mentioned, it is implied strongly. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

When I did this search, I also wanted to see if there were Scriptures saying we needed to trust each other. I didn’t find any of those, but I did find some who said we should trust God over other people. “From Psalm 118:8-9, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.” Psalm 56:11 also resonated with me. “in God I trust and am not afraid. What can man do to me?” Finally, from Micah 7:5, “Do not trust a neighbor; put no confidence in a friend. Even with the woman who lies in your embrace guard the words of your lips.”

So, what do we see when we read all these Bible verses? God wants us to look to Him first, wants us to trust Him first with everything in our lives. I agree with this wholeheartedly. In fact, there are two verses from Psalms that are among my favorites. Psalm 18:2 says, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer, my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” I also like Psalm 19:14 which is a verse I try to live by though I fail at it often. “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

Now that we’ve established we’re supposed to trust God first and foremost, how do we deal with broken trust, and does it affect how we live in community in our churches? The answer to the second question is easy. Of course, broken trust affects how we live in community. I’m dealing with broken trust issues right now. In fact, I have very few people I completely trust. It’s much easier now to give the pat answer that everything is just fine at church than to try to be honest and wait for the other shoe and judgment to fall upon me. Ever been there? I’m there now, and I don’t feel like I have anyone I can share it with. I know it’s wrong. The love of Christ should be able to overcome the reluctance to trust other people and the pressure to pretend, but right now, it’s not. I even prayed to God to take the pretending part away yesterday, but I still couldn’t talk. When a trust bond has been broken, it’s very hard to get back.

With all of that, how do we answer the first part of my question which is how do we deal with broken trust? Some people choose not to deal with it all. They only go to large group situations where it is easier to pretend and avoid small group situations or people who have betrayed their trust like the plague. That’s where I am right now. Other people leave churches where people have betrayed their trust. My husband and I have done that, more than once. The situation became untenable, and it was something that had to be done. I don’t think my family will do that this time though as I am the one who has the issue of feeling like she has to pretend. And, of course, the final thing you can do is actually talk about the broken trust bonds and see what can be done to solve the issue, if anything at all. If I’m being honest, that’s the other place where I’m stuck, and I think it happens to a lot of us. People don’t know how to handle conflict, expression of emotion, or mental health issues, all of which I’m facing or have faced in the past. Handling physical health issues is easier. In fact, every time my husband has had a physical health issue over the last few years, we have been surrounded in prayer. I wonder why we seem to get that part easier than the rest of it. Is it because there are things you can “do” when someone has a physical health issue? Maybe.

God is working on my heart though, and it’s what I want to end this with. He knows I have a hard time trusting people, and He’s sent Jesus to chase after me. How do I know this? A girlfriend posted a meme about Jesus leaving the 99 to find the 1. We all know that story regarding sheep, but it comforts me today to know that Jesus is chasing after me and wants to bring me back into the fold where I can learn how to trust people with His strength and not my own. Even if they betray my trust again. Why? Because even if we believers live in community imperfectly, God will never leave us or forsake us, and we can always trust Him. Praying we can all do a better job of living in community and trusting each other today!

Jesus Is Brave

Happy 4th of July if you live in the United States! I thought about skipping today’s post and just picking up again tomorrow, but I remembered when my final post in this series would be if I kept going so, here I am. And, in case you’re wondering, this makes the final post in this series happen on July 9, my 24th wedding anniversary. A fitting time to end, I think. 🙂

So, yesterday, I wrote of how Jesus was brave while He was here in this world. How there was a lot He gave up when He started His ministry. How He experienced betrayal from His friends and how He experienced outright hatred from the leaders in the synagogue. I wrote of how what He did must have taken courage because I wasn’t sure I would have had the courage to do what Jesus did. But, this was Jesus. He did all of it and walked right through to His sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection. He saved us from our sin, and we can all claim that promise for ourselves today.

Jesus is still brave today though. Why, you ask? Because He is still alive in all of us who are believers. He is still working for our good–your good and my good. He’ll be coming back to judge sin once and for all and destroy the enemy who has made this world so broken like it says in Revelation 19:11. “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war.”

Another reason He is brave today is because He needs to keep working on our hearts and changing them. He started working on my heart when I first accepted Him as Savior, and He will work on it until the day I die and go to be with Him. I often wonder why He keeps putting up with me. My insecurities and my hang-ups. My inability to forgive and to think anyone would forgive me. My impatience at seeing people who seem so perfect in their faith when I know I’m not. My wounded heart which I don’t think anyone will accept so I put walls around it to prevent any more hurt. My whole self, really.

But, Jesus is unlike anyone else, and that’s what I need to remember like the author says. “He deeply loves you and deeply knows you and is doing the hard work of forgiving and forgiving and forgiving again and again. Jesus is brave, and He made you to be brave too.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs)

I’m so thankful Jesus takes a risk on me. I’m glad He is willing to work on changing my heart continuously so it will be more like His. May we all have hearts more like His today!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!