Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hearing the Voice of God

When my oldest two children were young, my husband and I did not attend church as we should.  We were members of a church --- we just didn't go.  We didn't become anti-church or anti-God, we just used our weekends to "enjoy ourselves."  And we had some pretty good justifications for our lifestyle (thanks Satan...not): we watched every week's service on TV, I did a daily devotion, our kids went to a Christian daycare.  So did we need corporate worship?

For awhile I felt that I didn't.  Then life began to get shaky.  Over a six month period, I had two miscarriages and Hurricane Ivan desecrated upon the city of Pensacola and planted black mold into our house rendering us homeless.  We moved into a 50's style hotel room (read... not the best hotel in town) and started looking for a house.  It was challenging living in such a small space with two little kids.  We had to eat out for every meal.  They had no room to play.  We were literally boxed into this tiny, tiny space.  Even in our disparaging circumstances, we could see God's continual provision for us.  I began to tell my husband, "When we get a house, we are going back to church."   I rationalized (thanks again, Satan) that all of our nice clothes were in storage, and we couldn't go to church without those clothes.

One Sunday, Stephen was working, so it was left to me to take the kids out for lunch.  We showed up at Red Lobster before the church rush so we wouldn't have a long wait.  We were seated in an empty side room and got ready to enjoy our meal.  As we sat there looking over the menu, a family came in with a precious little girl who had obviously just come from church.  I looked up at the little girl and while thinking how cute she was, I heard  a male voice say the words, "Get your children in church."  

I was startled.  I turned to look around to see who had spoken, but in that little side room, there was not one single male -- except for Jared, who had not spoken to me.   I will always believe with absolute certainty that God spoke to me.  I picked up my cell phone, called Stephen, and told him that when I left lunch, I was going to buy us suitable clothes for church (I was still hung up on that for some reason), and I was taking the kids to church the next week.  I was instantly convicted.

See, I had my salvation.  And I was feeding myself with devotion and a church service although it was on TV and not with my actual presence in a church.  But I had one GREAT failure.  I was not leading my children to be church goers.  I was not teaching them to set aside time for God.  I was not establishing a positive legacy for them.

I went and bought those oh so important churchy clothes, and we have not missed more than a Sunday at a time in the last ten years except when I was busy taking care of additional newborns in our family.

I am currently involved in a Bible study that is geared towards mentoring new Christians.  Tonight in class, we began to discuss how God speaks to us.  One gentleman asked our pastor if he believed that God had spoken to Abraham in an audible voice. 

So we ventured on to discuss some of the ways that God gets our attention. The most obvious way is that we can read His words in the Bible.  But what about when we aren't necessarily looking for His direction -- when we've chosen our own direction?  God can use other people to speak words of wisdom to us,  the Holy Spirit can move within us, we can face certain situations that make us turn from our misdeeds and seek God, and, yes, He can speak to us.

Why do we assume that God wouldn't talk to us if that's what it took?  He did not in recent years lose any of the abilities that He had in the Old Testament.  He spoke to Abraham. He made a bush burn to catch Moses's attention. He even let a donkey talk! If God wants to talk to us, He will talk to us.  He will do whatever He has to do to get our stubborn attention away from what we are busying ourselves with.

A girl in my Bible study brought up the point that we live incredibly fast, noisy lives.  We always have distractions with TV, our hectic social schedules, our cell phones, and on and on and on.  Sometimes we don't stop to listen to what God has to say and He has to get more drastic.

I encourage you to take some time to find a quiet place and ask God what He needs to tell you.  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Map Master

"Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight."  Psalm 119:35

Last week, we took a family road trip / field trip to one of our favorite places -- the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.  We spent five hours wandering through the exhibits as we watched (and smelled) the various animals.  We follow the same path every time we visit -- start with the flamingos, go see the elephants, stop at the playground, and on to the monkeys!  We have the same restful (air conditioned) stops as we eat, visit the reptile house, and walk through the Bayou gift shop. 

This year, one big thing was different: Abbie is no longer in a stroller.  And so, she became what we affectionately called The Map Master.  

When you enter the zoo, they give you a paper map so you'll know where each exhibit is.  Abbie quickly took hold of the map, folded it just so, and became the leader of the pack.  She had the plan.

We were subjected to several hours of the following commands:
"Ugh... those animals are asleep, let's go."
"Those animals stink, let's see what's next."
"We don't have time for you to talk, let's go." and
"I have the map. You have to follow me."

She was so pleased that we (pretended to) let her be in charge.  As I gently turned her down each path that everyone else wanted to go down, she marched along proud to be at the head of the crowd.

At three, she never realized that her path was being directed, not by her map, but by my gentle pulling and suggestions.  She never realized that she did not have the power or control that she thought she did.  She never realized that as she commanded us to move on to another animal, we moved on because we were ready to, not because she had told us what to do.

How many times in life do we think that we are our own map masters?  How often do we think we know just which path we should take?  How often do we think that we don't have time for the things going on and are ready to rush on to the next stop on our life map?

What would have happened if I had allowed Abbie to make all the decisions at the zoo?  Would we actually have stopped  to see any of the animals or just walked in circles?  How quickly would we have become lost because, well, she's three, and she can't read?  She needed me and her brothers and sisters to make sure that she was on the right path.

In life we too can create our maps.  We can decide all of the things that we want to do.  We can decide all the places we want to go.  We can plan and plan and plan.  But in that planning, we would be wise to stop and ask for some direction.

I'm a planner.  I like to organize and sort things.  I like to make charts and lists of things that need to be done.  But sometimes that planning puts me ahead of where I need to be in the grander scheme of things.  I often become lost and confused and create unnecessary havoc and chaos in my life. I struggle to stop and take a breath and let God lead me where I need to go.

When I hop in my van to take a road trip, I don't stop twice to think about putting an address into our GPS, Gypsy,  and mindlessly following the robotic instructions.  "She" gives me directions, and I follow.  But when I'm looking for direction in life, I sometimes forget to open the Bible and look for direction there.  But everything we need to know about life is there.  

I challenge you, and myself, to stop looking for the paths.  Stop trying to make all the plans.  Take a breath -- open the word of God -- and let him direct your paths. 

"In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:6

"Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light for my path."  Psalm 119:105

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I Want to Be a Sellout

In today's very modern, provocative society being a "sell out" has some rather negative implications.  Selling out generally means that someone has turned their back on an ideology or belief that they have commonly been associated with.  Selling out can also be brought about by making a change in the way one acts. In mainstream society, a sell out is often a betrayer or someone who has backed down on previous beliefs to find an easier road.

So... if being a sell out has negative implications, why would I want to be one?  Well, it all depends on perception because I do believe that being a sell out can be turned around to be a positive thing.

I want to be a sell out to the things that surround us in our culture.  I want to turn away from the things of this world.  Just take a moment to think of some of the things that surround us daily.  Think of the images that we see on TV -- even when we are trying to watch "good" shows, immoral images assault us from commercials.  Think of the women's rights push to ignore the preciousness of an unborn life in support of abortion.  Think of the profanity that easily slips from people's mouths.  Think of the crime that fills the news because of a lack or morality in our society.

"For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight." I Corinthians 3:19

So therefore, I want to sell out to the commonality of our culture and turn in a search for the wisdom of God.  I want to turn off the television.  I want to submerge myself in the word of God and seek His way.

My oldest daughter Jayla, avoiding bedtime one night, took the first letters of all our names and, without repeating any letters, rearranged them to spell the word JAMES and then she added all of our ages together to come up with 121.  She then turned to James 1:21 and "adopted" this verse as our family verse.  It says,

"Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you."

Jayla felt that this verse was very fitting for us because we have actively tried to turn our family away from worldly ways.  I have removed my children from public school and a culture that I do not approve of to home school them.  We have turned away from many of the items we find on clothing racks and strive to dress modestly.  We turn to Christian music for our entertainment.  We study from the word of God together.

James 1:22 - 24 continues by saying, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what is says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror, and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like."

It is not merely enough to spend time in church on Sunday or to read a few verses out of the Bible each day.  We must strive to take what we read and apply it to our daily lives.  We must identify what there is in our life that is a detractor from living a Christian life and remove it.

This is not always an easy path.  I have a friend who was telling me just the other day of a show on television that she loves and has not missed an episode of in years. However, this year the show is going in a direction that does not support the Christian ideals that she has, and she is making the very difficult decision to walk away from the show.  This is an emotional move for her.  On the surface, you can say, "oh, it's just a television show." But when there are things in our life that we enjoy, not matter how big or small, that we have to move away from, there can be emotions that make those moves difficult.

God never promised that following His way would be easy.  In fact, the Bible promises us times of trial.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance."  James 1:2-3

The trials that we can face range from what we view as minimal things, like my friend not wanting to give up her television show, to life-shaking events... oftentimes new Christians realize that they must temper their association with old friends or give up old habits.  There are many in the world, and unfortunately this is beginning to reach us more and more in the United States, who are persecuted for believing in and following God.  Yet, the Bible clearly says that we should find joy in the tribulation.

Matthew 5:14 tells us "You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill that cannot be hidden."  We should sell out to the world and shine for Christ no matter the trials or tribulation that we face.  

This indeed is easier said than done.  It's hard when people turn against us because we seem "conservative," or "goody goody," or "self righteous."  But regardless of the terms that we can be labeled with, we should strive to have those terms apply to us because we are attempting to live as God has directed us to in His word. Living in a manner that sets apart is not always easy.  Yet that is what we must do.  We must set ourselves apart from the ways of the world.  

I want to sell out to the ugliness that surrounds me.  I am on a journey, and my destination is Paradise.

"Do not love the world or anything in the word.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world -- the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does -- comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever."  1 John 2:15-17