Thursday, October 28, 2010

Two Words That Change Everything

Last night, while I was getting ready for bed, I tuned in to my favorite Christian radio station. A woman was sharing a story of God’s faithfulness. I listened as she told of God’s miraculous intervention in her life during a time when all looked hopeless. As she recounted God’s goodness and told of the supernatural way He had worked in behalf of her and her children, she very casually spoke two words. Two small words, and yet this phrase completely captured my attention, transforming my thinking and ultimately, my faith in God.

I don’t know how her story ended. As I tried to truly grasp the implications of these two words, my mind became totally consumed with this new knowledge God was imparting to me through her testimony. I kept repeating the phrase over and over, out loud, and each time the words penetrated my ears, the truth behind them penetrated my heart. I suddenly found myself strengthened in my inner most being. I literally felt the touch of God on my heart. I knew, at that very moment, my relationship with the Lord had entered a deeper, more intimate, faith-filled level.

How could two small words make such a radical difference in my life? Simple. These two words change everything! Most likely, they will change you, too!

But God.

But God.

Say it aloud and let the truth and reality of these words penetrate your own heart.

But God.

No matter what is going on in your life, or what you may be going through, know and remember that all things must surrender to the power and authority of our God. Right now, at this very moment, stop and think about what you are struggling with today. Whatever it may be, I guarantee it is no match for our God. The Bible is living proof of that!

The Israelites had Pharaoh’s army breathing down their neck and the Red Sea in front of them, BUT GOD…..

David had only a little bitty sling shot with which to slay a giant of a man named Goliath, BUT GOD…

Daniel was served as the main course to a den of lions known for their ferocious appetites, BUT GOD…

A widow was out of time and out of money, with only a houseful of empty containers she had collected from her neighbors, BUT GOD…

Jonah was sinking in his sin of rebellion and headed for the bottom of the ocean, BUT GOD…

Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried, BUT GOD…

Time and time again, when all looked hopeless and those in the midst of the situation felt most helpless, God showed up and did the seemingly impossible. Does your situation appear hopeless? Are you feeling helpless? Take heart. God is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Instead of ending the circumstances of your life with a period, replace the finality of your thinking with a comma of hope, followed by your declaration of faith! Boldly look your situation in the face and speak the only two words that are able to breathe life into your faith and power into your life.

I am (fill in the blank), BUT GOD…

I don’t see how I can (fill in the blank), BUT GOD…

I don’t have (fill in the blank), BUT GOD…

I am scared that (fill in the blank), BUT GOD…

So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead! Let God write the ending of your story. If you do, I have no doubt He will finish all things that pertain to you with a true exclamation of His glory and His marvelous grace!

(Note: This first appeared on Heartprints of God on June 24, 2009. It was later published in the July 2010 edition of P31 Woman, a magazine published by Proverbs 31 Ministries.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Out of the Box Living

I've spent most of my life crammed inside a box.

Rules. Expectations. Status quo. Deadlines. Formalities. Legalism. Uhhhhgggghhhhh.....just talking about these confining walls makes me feel as though I am suffocating!

Oh...I see you shaking your head and nodding right along with me. You are familiar with box living, too. Anyone who has been in the box knows exactly what I am talking about.

Boxed-in living will kill you. It will suck what little life you have right out of you. As long as you make your abode inside the walls of performance, you will find yourself gasping for air.

LEGALISM! Death by the law. defines legalism as: strict adherence, or the principle of strict adherence, to law or prescription, esp. to the letter rather than the spirit.

Living by the letter of the law rather than the spirit.

Thankfully, I have been set free.

God's grace. God's marvelous grace, knocked down the walls and set me free. And...the more time I spend with Jesus the freer I become.

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." Matthew 11:28-30, The Message

Now, I am living! I am inhaling and exhaling. I am flexing and bending. I am moving and shaking. I am alive.

Life is not a rigid set of rules and regulations. Life is not a list of do's and don'ts. Life is not a checklist of things to accomplish. Life is not governed by the ticking of a clock. Life is not staying inside the lines!

Life is ebb and flow. Life is come and go. Life is this and that. Life is living and breathing and changing.

Living in the box of legalism will kill you. Trying to live by the letter of the law just brings death. We can't. We aren't able. We were not made to.

Living outside the box, by allowing God to live inside of you, will bring life. Beautiful life. Abundant Life. The kind of life Christ thought was worth dying for to give to you and me. When we live by the spirit of the law, by surrendering to God's spirit at work in us and through us, God can. God is able. God accomplishes that for which we were created to accomplish.

Are you still in the box? Are you still gasping for breath, struggling to live? Take hold of God's grace. Grab onto His love. Accept His forgiveness. Invite Him to move into your heart and into your life. Get out of the way and let God have His perfect way in your will and in your life.

Breathe in His spirit and watch it knock down the confining walls of your life.

Life is meant to be lived, and true life is found in none other than Christ Jesus.

I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows). John 10:10b, The Amplified Bible

I am finally and completely out of the box and there is no way I am ever going back.

What about you?

Life in a in Christ.

Praise God! I see your walls starting to topple!!!!!

Friday, October 15, 2010

God's Sweet Spot

I will never forget the day little Chris taught us all how to hit a baseball. Chris was in first grade, but that didn't stop him from being the best batter out on the field.

It was morning recess and the diamond was filled with children of various ages and grade levels. The players had been divvied up, the teams were in place, and the game was in full swing, and so was Chris. As soon as the first ball was thrown in his direction, the bat, a mere extension of his arm, met it and whack! The ball sailed over the fence and Chris trotted around the bases.

As he made his way across home plate another student called out, "WOW! How did you do that?"

"Easy," came Chris's reply. "I found the sweet spot."

Ahhhhhhh...the sweet spot. The one place on the bat....where....when the ball and bat connect...home runs are inevitable and smiles are undeniable.

Today, I discovered the sweet spot. No, I haven't been out on the field trying my luck at one of America's favorite pastimes. Where I have been is right where God has called me to be.

Have you ever wondered if you are in God's will? I think we all have grappled with this question at least once in our lifetime, if not on a regular basis? As followers of Christ we want nothing less than to be smack dab in the center of God's will. We know God has a plan for our life and we don't want to miss it. We want to know that we know that we know we are right where we should be.

Today, I knew.

This day was no different than any other day. I woke up, went to work, came home, and now, here I am sitting on my couch, writing. Just another day in the life of Stacy. Yet, today, I hit a spiritual home run. As I went through this ordinary day, doing ordinary things, I felt the extraordinary peace of God flood over me. All day, and in every way, I knew that I knew I was right where God would have me to be.

God's will for my life and my desire to follow Him in His purpose for my life connected. Like a baseball and a bat, the two made contact. I found the sweet spot.

But wait, you say. I don't get it. You just said today was an ordinary day. What makes you so sure you found the sweet spot? How did you know you were in God's will?

How does a batter know he found the sweet spot on the bat?

He hears the sound. He feels the jolt. He sees the ball heading out of the park.

Today, in my innermost being, I heard the sound of God's approval. Today, in my innermost being, I felt the jolt of God's power working in me and through me. Today, I saw God's purpose being fulfilled before my very eyes.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:1-2, NLT

So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. Romans 12:1-2, The Message

My sweet spot.

It's not my job. It's not my marriage. It's not where I live.

It is my life.

The whole of it.

The way I live it each and every day.

It is losing myself in Christ, and allowing Christ to be found in me.

This is God's will.

This is my sweet spot.

To Chris, there was no mystery to knowing how to hit a home run. It was simply a matter of making a connection. When you find the sweet spot, it just happens...naturally and triumphantly.

It is the same with us. When our life finally connects with Christ; when the creator of the universe and the one He created finally come in complete contact one with another, God's will just happens....supernaturally and gloriously!

Ahhhhhhh...God's sweet spot. The one place in your life....where....when God's will and your desire connect...the abundant life is inevitable and the smile of your heart, undeniable.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Want To

His answer was simple enough. Or, was it?

A couple of weeks ago, as I was driving home from work, I hit the scan button on my radio. A few short seconds later I found myself listening to NPR (not my usual choice, by the way) and eavesdropping on a conversation between two gentlemen. I had landed on this station just in time to hear the host of this radio show ask the following question:

"So what kind of qualifications does one need in order to succeed in your line of work?"

The man being interviewed simply responded, "the want to".

I was hooked. I quickly reached for the scan button again. They had my complete attention.

The interview continued and so did my curiosity. As I listened, I speculated about what occupation they might be referring to. Imagine my surprise when I finally figured out what this man did for a living. Any guesses?

According to this gentleman, if you have the "want to", you, too, can become a.........drum roll, please........... professional rodeo clown!

I had to smile. Of all the occupations that had popped into my mind, I have to admit professional rodeo clown was not one of them. But then, it all started to come into focus. Having the "want to" made perfect sense.

I have a feeling if this radio host had been interviewing any one of the twelve disciples, they, too may have responded with the exact same answer.

Walking along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers: Simon (later called Peter) and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work. Jesus said to them, "Come with me. I'll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I'll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass." They didn't ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed. Matthew 4:18-20, The Message

After this he went out and saw a man named Levi at his work collecting taxes. Jesus said, "Come along with me." And he did—walked away from everything and went with him. Luke 5:27,28,The Message

Were any of these men qualified to be a disciple of the Most High God? What did they themselves even know about God? How could they possible lead others to God? And yet, Jesus called them into service and they took Him up on His invitation. They had the "want to" and that was all they needed.

What about you? What about me?

Over my lifetime, I have passed up many God-given invitations simply because I felt I was unqualified? I have a feeling you have, too. Like me, you have probably heard the voice of Jesus calling you to follow Him into a new place, a new career, a new direction, a new life...and yet, you opted to stay put, right where you were. You may still be in this same, seemingly "safe", spot today.

The disciples could easily have talked themselves out of this new calling. After all, they already had an occupation. They were already knee-deep in their livelihood. They knew how to fish and they were good at it. Matthew not only knew how to collect taxes for the government, but for his own pocket, as well. They weren't listening for the knock of opportunity. They weren't looking to "find themselves". They weren't looking for God. Yet, when the knock came and the door to a new life in Christ was opened before them, they took the leap of faith and jumped in with both feet. They were caught....hook, line and sinker.

Why? Because they were qualified? No. Simply because they had the want to.

The Jesus who gave them the invitation of a lifetime is still the Jesus who calls out to you today. He is still looking for people to walk away from all that they know, all that they do, and follow Him.

When Jesus calls you, He is not looking at your qualifications. The one who created you knows better than you what you were created to do. The one who formed you in your mother's womb knows better than you that for which you were formed. All you need to have is the "want to". But, is it really as easy as that?

"One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, "Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one's own self!—can't be my disciple. Anyone who won't shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can't be my disciple.

Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn't first sit down and figure the cost so you'll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you're going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: 'He started something he couldn't finish.'"

"Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can't, won't he send an emissary and work out a truce?"

"Simply put, if you're not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can't be my disciple."
Luke 14:25-33, The Message

As the interview on NPR continued, the two gentlemen talked about the cost of being a rodeo clown. This occupation requires a lot of traveling: traveling that takes this clown away from his family many days through out the year. Add to this, the occupational hazards of being a rodeo clown. After all, the only reason the clown is even part of the rodeo is for the protection of the cowboys. He is there to put himself in between the cowboy and the raging bull. His occupation requires him to put his life on the line for the life of the cowboy. Counting the cost has to be factored in to "the want to".

As disciples of Christ, we too, need to count the cost.

And Jesus called [to Him] the throng with His disciples and said to them, If anyone intends to come after Me, let him deny himself [forget, ignore, disown, and lose sight of himself and his own interests] and take up his cross, and joining Me as a disciple and siding with My party] follow with Me [continually, cleaving steadfastly to Me]. Mark 8:34, The Amplified Bible

Jesus is calling us to leave everything and to follow Him. Is there a cost to being a disciple of Christ? Most definitely! Is it worth it? Most definitely!

It was obvious. This clown considered his occupation as a "high calling". He considered in an honor to be able to "be there" for a fellow cowboy in need. To him, saving the life of another was worth the risk of losing his own.

As a disciple of Christ, we too have been given a high calling. What could be a more rewarding occupation than fishing for men? What could be more rewarding than reaching others with the love of Jesus? What could be more honorable than giving of our own life to save that of another?

Jesus is still calling today. He is still giving you and me the invitation of a lifetime. He is still knocking on the doors of our hearts and presenting us with the opportunity to stand in the gap for those in our arena of life.

Are you willing to say "yes"? Are you willing to leave it all behind and follow Him?

Is it really worth it to you?

It is if you have the "want to".

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Real Deal

My grandma, born and raised in the deep South, was a spunky lady, to say the least. She had a dry, witty sense of humor and was famous for her one-liners. While her words always brought a laugh, they also revealed her wisdom. Long after the laughter faded, her words resonated in my heart.

As a young, single woman in my early twenties, I often traveled by myself. I thought nothing of getting in my car and driving seven hours North to see my parents, or ten hours East to spend time with my sister. My parents, however, worried about my safety. Time after time, they cautioned me of the dangers of traveling alone. One time, this familiar topic of conversation came up while we were visiting my grandma.

"I don't know why she insists on traveling by herself," my mother said, as I sat right beside her on my Grandma's couch. "I keep telling her to get a man's hat and place it in her back window. That way, it would at least look like a man was traveling with her. For all they know, he could simply be taking a nap in the backseat!"

Without skipping a beat, my Grandma leaned forward, looked directly at me and remarked, "Forget about the hat, honey. Get a man!" Laughter spilled into the room. Then Grandma continued. "Who wants a silly ole hat when you can have the real deal?!"

And of course, for all practical purposes, Grandma was right! I understood my mother's reasoning and felt her love for me in this odd request, but I had to agree with my Grandma. What good would a hat do? It was, after all, just a hat. At a quick glance, it might give the appearance that a man was along for the ride, but appearances and reality are two totally different things! Could a hat change a flat tire for me? Could a hat take the wheel and drive for me if I got tired and needed a break from the driver's seat? Could a hat protect me from a would be assailant? No, the hat was merely for show and would only provide a false sense of security. I didn't need a hat, I needed a man!

As ridiculous as I found my mother's idea to be, I couldn't deny that the joke was on me when it came to my spiritual life. I had grown up in a Christian home and had attended church from a young age. I knew all about God, the Bible, and what it meant to look like a Christian. In fact, anyone who spotted me cruising through life would have been sure to notice my Bible, my Christian lingo and my Christian ways. But, if they would have gotten close enough to peer into the backseat of my heart, they would have discovered all these were just for show. I was traveling life alone. I had religion, but what I needed was the man, Christ Jesus.

It wasn't until my earlier thirties that I traded in my religious facade for a true, vibrant, living and breathing relationship with the Lord. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God became real to me for the first time in my life. Now, my Bible is no longer on display for all to see, but instead, it's words are hidden in my heart, guiding, leading and transforming me little by little, day by day. The words I speak are no longer spoken to impress others with my spirituality, but rather to impress upon others the beauty and freedom that can be found in a relationship with Christ. I pray each day God will take the wheel of my life and live in and through me.

I am no longer satisfied with a religion that is just for show, and why should I be?

Think about it. Can religion forgive my sins? Can religion create a new heart in me? Can religion live in and through me? Can religion feel my hurt, understand my fears, or speak to my heart? No, only Christ can. Why would I want to settle for anything less than the real deal?...and why should you?


Oh, by the way, in case you are wondering, I took my Grandma's advice and got a man. Now, I not only have Christ in my life, but a wonderful husband, too! No more traveling alone for this girl! From now on, it's the three of us sharing every single moment of this amazing ride called life!

(Note: This first appeared on Heartprints of God on May 13, 2009)

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Word Made Flesh

Somethings are taught...and somethings are caught.

If you take a few minutes to digest this thought, I think you may agree with me.

After all, how did you learn to tie your shoes? That's right. Someone taught you how to first make a loop, then to hold it tight while going around your thumb and into the loop....and viola!

How did you learn to read? Again, someone took the time to teach you the alphabet and the sound each letter makes alone and in relation to other letters.

How did you learn to drive a car? Your mom or dad (or some other brave soul) patiently...(or maybe not!) instructed you on the ins and outs of maneuvering a vehicle through the maze of other cars, stop lights, and of course, the all too common, construction zone.

Dictionary. com defines teach this way: to impart knowledge of or skill in; give instruction in.

Somethings are most definitely taught.

But, let me ask you this.

How did you learn to bring out a smile in someone else by sharing a smile of your own?

How did you learn to go "awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww" whenever you see something that melts your heart?

How did you learn to learn to talk?

You caught these! You learned these by simply observing the behavior and actions of those around you.

The Bible, of course, is divided into two testaments....the old and the new. The Old Testament is about the Old Covenant.(Death through the Law) The New Testament is about the new covenant. (Life through Christ Jesus). But, have you ever thought about the Old Testament being that which was taught and the New Testament being that which is caught?

In the Old Testament, through the prophets of old and their instruction in the law and the commandments, we are taught about sin. In the Old Testament, through the prophecies were are taught about the promise of the Messiah. In the Old Testament, through the lives of Moses, Noah, Joseph, Daniel and many others we are taught about Faith. Old Testament learning requires our mind, our intellect.

In the New Testament, through the birth, death and resurrection of Christ, we catch a glimpse of who God is. In the New Testament, through the power of Holy Spirit,we begin to feel the power of God. In the New Testament, as we follow the life of Christ and his disciples and journey with Paul, we begin to realize what it means to be a follower of Christ. New Testament learning requires our heart.

Somethings are instruction. Somethings are beholding.

One requires our mind. The other, our heart.

Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!

You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.But I say, if you are even angry with someone,you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot,you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone,you are in danger of the fires of hell."
Matthew 5:17-22, NLT

The Pharisees and Scribes had been taught the law. They knew all about "Do not kill", etc., but the real truth of the law had yet to reach their heart. They hadn't caught that the Law was not just something you spoke about or a standard by which you judged someone else. It was a matter of your own heart. It's not just enough to have a head knowledge of the law. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the law must be caught by your heart and your life transformed. In Christ's eyes, to hate someone or to harbor hateful feeling against someone was the same as killing that person.

So which is more important? The things that are taught or the things that are caught?

Jesus, when confronted with this very question,summed it up this way:

"Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
Matthew 22:35-40

The Old Testaments teaches us about God. In the New Testament we are able to behold His glory in the face of Jesus. In the New Testament, through the power of the Holy Spirit, as we observe Jesus' behavior, His mannerisms, and His heart we become changed. We catch on to what the Christian life is all about.

"But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." 2 Corinthians 3:18, KJV

The Old Testament...the law of sin and what teaches us. The New in Christ what changes us.

Yes, somethings are taught and somethings are caught. Maybe you have been taught all about God. But, let me ask you this? Has your heart caught on to new life in Christ? Has your life taken hold of His forgiveness, His grace and His love for you? Have you been transformed by beholding Him? Have you caught what Christ came to teach us?

It is one thing to know the Word. It is another thing entirely to know THE WORD WHO BECAME FLESH.

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

John pointed him out and called, "This is the One! The One I told you was coming after me but in fact was ahead of me. He has always been ahead of me, has always had the first word."

We all live off his generous bounty,
gift after gift after gift.
We got the basics from Moses,
and then this exuberant giving and receiving,
This endless knowing and understanding—
all this came through Jesus, the Messiah
. John 1:14-17, The Message

(Note: This first appeared on GRACEFUL SISTERS on September 22, 2010)