Thursday, January 28, 2010

God Just Called To Say I Love You


I caught tiny bits of a sermon on the radio the other day that captured my attention. I didn't hear the whole story, in fact, I heard less than two minutes of the sermon in total... but I heard enough to understand the message.

Have you ever had someone call or write to you for no other reason than to say "I just wanted you to know that you are loved..."? I think we've all been the recipients of those messages at one point or another. It gives me the warm fuzzies -- kind of like being wrapped in God's fleece.

I've been thinking about how God does this for me every day. It's in the little things He shows me or does for me that make me smile and say "That was a God thing!" or "God, I feel You near, I am humbled to know You did this for me..."

That's Him, sending me a little love note, just to show me that I'm loved. He certainly doesn't have to, but the thought that He wants to... brings me to my knees. How great is He?!

It doesn't have to be extravagant or complicated... sometimes, the simplest ones are the sweetest.

I saw His love for me expressed in a sweet way yesterday. I had received word that two of our Compassion girls, Emily & Martha, would no longer be part of the Compassion sponsorship program.

Emily's family moved outside of the area that Compassion serves, making it impossible for her to attend.

Martha has stopped coming to the Compassion center, and all the efforts of the Compassion staff to counsel, advise, and encourage her to return have not been fruitful.

I will be honest, my heart is heavy. The relationship we have built with these girls over the course of the last few years have made the end of these sponsorships very sad, but the Lord we serve wouldn't allow this to happen without a plan, even when we don't understand. He knows our hearts are hurting. I'm trusting that He will provide for these girls, and I'm praying that they'll not only remember how much we love them, but even more importantly, how much God loves them. I pray I've made a positive impact in their lives. I'm also praying that God will send them love notes and messages to remind them that He is near to them and that He loves them.

Compassion offered to choose two new children for us to sponsor, but I wanted to be involved in choosing them, so I told them not to add two new children to our profile just yet...

I went online to Compassion's website to do a search by date, but none came up for the date I was looking for on Compassion Canada's website. Not one to give up, I decided to see if the other Compassion websites had any children with this birth date, and I finally found one on Compassion Germany's website.

A little girl, with the birth date of March 25th. She's from Bolivia, and her name is... Lizbeth. A date that's very close to my heart, and a part of my best friend's name.

God just called, to say, "I love you..."

We're waiting for Germany to transfer her file to Compassion Canada so that we can start sponsoring her. The lady I spoke to at the Compassion office hadn't been asked to transfer a file from another country before, so I'm sure they're, uhm, appreciating the challenge right now :o} Actually, I've also asked them to transfer a child's file from Compassion Australia as well. [You know, just for extra practice.] The file from Australia is for a little girl named Suwanna from Thailand who stole my heart (with my permission, of course!)

Compassion has been so wonderful to work with. Everyone I speak to at the office (I know most of them by name!) have been fantastic in all the years we've been involved with them. If you've ever considered sponsoring a child, please consider Compassion.

If you can't afford to sponsor a child, please pray for the children waiting for sponsors, that God will match each of them up to the perfect sponsor for His purpose. Pray that in the meantime, they'll get glimpses of how much God loves them too.

For more information, please visit Compassion's website!

(If you are in the U.S., please select the U.S. website HERE!)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

American Christian Idol?


I have stumbled upon a brilliant writer/pastor/blogger, and his posts have been on my mind. I love the way he challenges me to take a closer look, to reach deeper, think harder. I love the way he writes so beautifully about the things that matter.

One of his recent posts is on modern day idolatry. It is brilliantly written, and gives me much food for thought. I really want to share, but I don't know what the proper etiquette is for this. I don't want to take any credit for his thoughts/words, so I'll offer the link before I copy his post/questions. My answers are in red.

When we read about idols in the Old Testament, we tend to think of ancient people bowing down to carved wooden statues. How silly. How foolish. But most of us are just sophisticated idolaters. And it's no less silly or foolish. I'm convinced that idolatry is our root spiritual problem. Maybe that's why it's the first commandment of ten?

In the beginning, God created us in His image. We've been creating Him in our image ever since. Instead of worshiping the Creator, we settle for something less. We find a substitute god, small g. And here's the tricky thing. Most idols are good things, but those good things become bad things because they take the place of God. Instead of being the Ultimate End, God become a means to an end. We want something more than we want God. And we try to use God to get it.

So how do you identify an idol? Here are four idol identifiers:

1) What consumes your thoughts? Your daydreams are idol clues. If it's something you think about more than God then it may be an idol.

Right now, my daydream is sleep, fleece blankets and rest. I don't think about those more than I think of God, but it's becoming consuming. I'm praying for God to help me think of them a lot less. Especially in the early afternoon when my energy and stamina plummet for the remainder of the day, not to be seen again until after a four hour nap in early evening... Next to that would be my online time, although some convictions last weekend are helping me reassess my priorities and responsibilities.

2) What bad habits do you struggle with? Your addictions are idol clues. An idol is something you cannot control. It controls you.

Bad Habits: My tendency to respond to my children in ways that teach them the wrong way to respond to others... I see it in the way they respond to each other lately, and I recognize it as something that comes from my recent interactions with them, and it breaks my heart. I think that lately, it's been brought out by exhaustion and illness, but it's no excuse, and I want it to change. I need more gentleness and more love in the way I respond to them when I'm tired or not feeling well -- especially when I'm tired or not feeling well. I want patience to be my addiction.

Addictions: Until recently, it was my addiction to being available to others 24/7 and wanting to feel "plugged in" to what was happening in the lives of those around me, especially via the internet. It was my social life of sorts, I guess, since I don't have a local social life. That addiction was beginning to creep into my life at the cost of other priorities. Ouch. I still very much value being there for others, I always will, but I recently noticed while doing my devotions on Sunday afternoon that this addiction was affecting my time with God and family. When the phone rang and my email notifier also chimed, and my initial reaction was to drop my devotions and Bible Study time, and answer the phone as well as check my Inbox. I was willing to let that addiction come between me and God. My time with friends was also coming between me and my family time. Definitely convicting. I'm thankful that God helped me open my eyes to the choices I had been making. My computer's been off more often since, and the phone has gone unanswered a lot more often... and you know what? It feels more balanced.


**Edited to add: It was my own temptation to drop everything when someone tried to get in touch with me -- this wasn't something they expected of me. I love keeping in touch with people, I appreciate the relationships God has given me through this blog or through the internet -- but I still need to keep my priorities in the order that God leads me to. So by all means, write, call, continue to keep in touch -- I'll do my best to keep in touch too, but sometimes, it may take a lil' while :)

There are other 'idols/addictions' that I've dropped along the way. TV is one of them. There's nothing wrong with TV in moderation, but last summer, I began to notice that most of what I was seeing on TV didn't honor God, and neither did my time spent watching those shows. It just became personally empty and meaningless for me. When I stopped watching TV, I suddenly had more time on my hands, and less garbage in my mind. Junk in, junk out. It's one of the reasons I rarely watch movies anymore, or the same reason I rarely read secular literature. I want what I do to feed my soul and nourish my spirit. "Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life".

I honestly think that we can't just drop everything out of our lives all at once... God leads us to do this in His time. Also, what we feel convicted about may not seem like a problem to others. I love that when I step back and take a closer look at where my heart is and whether or not it's in line with where God needs it to be, the Holy Spirit takes over and helps me purge the stuff that doesn't give God glory. It's like those things suddenly taste different to my heart, making it much easier to just let them go.

3) What do you spend too much money on? Your spending habits are idol clues. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also!

I feel released from this more and more. I'm giving more consideration to purchases, and buying things less impulsively than I did years ago. I have always told my children to "sleep on it for 24-48 hours before making a purchase", and these days, I find myself following that advice more and more. I also have gotten into the habit of asking myself some tougher questions before making purchases outside the normal groceries/necessities. Why do I want this? Will I really use it? Is it worth it? What are my motives? Can I do without it? Does buying this fall in line with being good stewards of our finances? Last but not least, I often ask the deal-breaker... What could this amount of money do for the Compassion kids we sponsor? That usually brings it into perspective. It's something I'm still working on, but something close to my heart. I'm not yet where I feel I need to be.

The progress in this area is liberating, though... both for the mind, and for the budget.

As for too much money, would the cost of heating count? :o}

4) What produces your strongest emotions? Your intense emotions are idol clues. If you want to identify an idol, all you have to do is identify your emotional attachments.

God. Love. Faith. Compassion. Thirst for knowledge & wisdom. Giving. Family. Friends. Writing. Photography. Reading. Hugs. Orange Fleece. :o}

Identifying an idol takes a tremendous amount of soul searching. And you have to be brutally honest. But you cannot tear it down until you name it. If you're serious, I highly recommend Tim Keller's book Counterfeit Gods.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bible Vs. Idol


I can't take the credit for this, but I thought it was brilliant... definitely gives food for thought.

Personally, a cell phone is the least of my worries... but it makes me wonder what other electronic device competes for attention. My laptop is the only thing I can think of, even though I do use it as part of my Bible Study tools every day, side by side with my Bible. I also use it to listen to Christian music. What if I used it less, and my Bible more... what if I used my online time for more Bible study, and less other stuff?

Something to think about....

Ever wonder what would happen if we treated our Bible like we treat our cell phone?

What if we carried it around in our purses or pockets?

What if we flipped through it several times a day?

What if we turned back to go get it if we forgot it?

What if we used it to receive messages from the text?

What if we treated it like we couldn't live without it?

What if we gave it to kids as gifts?

What if we used it when we traveled?

What if we used it in case of an emergency?

This is something to make you go... hmm... where is my Bible?

Oh, and one more thing: Unlike our cell phone, we don't have to worry about our Bible being disconnected because Jesus already paid the bill!

And no dropped calls!

Makes you stop and think, "where are my priorities?"

Sunday, January 03, 2010

A Vinedresser's "To Do" List


On the way to church this morning, the first church service of 2010, I was reflecting on a post I had recently made on my family blog about wanting what God wants, leaving the changes up to Him.

One of the reasons I feel that way is because there is so much work to be done in me for Him, so much fire needed to refine me into His image... I can't work on every single one of them at once, but He can... I can't begin to choose which ones to work on, but He can. He knows His vineyard, He alone breathed life into it, and the harvest is His.

Then, in church, this scripture was shared...

Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.
Psalm 40:5 - NIV

It took my breath away...

After the sermon, as everyone was mingling and socializing, I finished reading the rest of the scriptures that had been shared during the sermon, including this one. The following words, along with the words in Psalm 40:5, speak of where my heart is. It's not that there isn't room for improvement, it's that there is so much need for improvement, such a need for a Silversmith's refiner's fire, such a need for a Vinedresser... it's too important a task, too overwhelming a task to try to choose what He would want for me.

For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me.
Psalm 40:12 - NIV

I can't imagine being in more capable hands, and I can't imagine how busy He is going to be... but I can already imagine how willing I am... because I am already there.

The pruning won't be easy... but God cares more about my character than about how comfortable I am... and the way I see it, I'm comfortable with being uncomfortable -- I am confident that the end results will be a fruitful spiritual harvest for His Kingdom.

Change me, Lord...

I am clay in Your hands...

Silver held carefully above the flame...

The vine in Your vineyard.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Spiritual Harvest


It's everywhere. It's almost inescapable. On Twitter, at work, on Facebook, at home, on Blogs, and in the news... it's everywhere. That three word phrase as the old year fades and the new one awakens... no, not "Happy New Year" -- that's another post entirely -- but "New Year Resolutions". Thoughts on this have been swirling around like a snowstorm in my heart these past few days, and the storm is slowly beginning to settle, forming each snowflake into words that describe how I am feeling...

I don't want to be the one to decide what to change. If God has taught me anything this year (and He has, beyond measure), it is that I couldn't begin to dream or imagine the depth of what He wants for our lives. The depth of what He can do when we move out of His way and surrender to Him, and trust Him to change US.

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us."
-- Ephesians 3:20

I don't want a new year resolution... I don't want a new year, I want to be made new in Him daily... a daily dying to self.

I want what He wants.

He wants me to attach myself to His son, the True Vine, and receive life from Him. He wants my life to become intertwined with the Vine so deeply that the lines are blurred as to where one ends, and one begins. He wants that Vine sustaining my life completely. He wants my life to bear fruit for His kingdom, for His spiritual harvest.

He desires for me to surrender into His hands, to trust Him as the Vinedresser. The Vinedresser knows me intimately, knows which of my branches will not bear fruit, and knows when and how to prune those branches. No one does this with more love and more perfect timing than the One who created the branches, the one whose Son is the Vine. The One the fruits will bring glory to. The One for whom the harvest is for.

Not only does a branch not bear fruit when it stands by itself, unconnected to the vine, the branch can not bear the fruit of faith unless we form a relationship with the Vine and the Vinedresser. If I am not connected to the vine, then my branch, my life, my faith... will not grow. The wood of my branch will become worthless, no amount of pruning, watering, and tender loving care will make it whole again... without Him, I become nothing.

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."
John 15:5

I want and need His guidance, His tough love, His discipline, His pruning... I want to continue to surrender in infinite obedience to the Vinedresser for my life to become fruitful, and in order not to grow astray.

I am leaving the changes completely up to Him. I am at His mercy, and I am excited to see what He will do. I dare Him to surprise me... I have a feeling that He is going to

If nothing else, what an amazing grape juice my life will make...

Change me, Lord, into the branch that bears sweet fruit for your spiritual harvest.