Enter by the Narrow Gate

"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."
Matthew 7:13-14

September 2, 2014

Joy? My strength?

It's been another six months since I last posted a blog.  (sigh)   The words just haven't been there.  I used to write so easily about how the wonderful life-giving truths of life in Jesus Christ had become mine.  My growth is different now.  It's less about journaling my way through issues and more like just living my life.  That's not a bad thing at all.  I like writing, though.  I want to write, but instead I've been reading.

International Balloon Fiesta, Albuquerque, NM
I've heard that writers should be voracious readers, too.  Well, I have been that!  I hope that in some subconscious way the reading is teaching my brain something that will help me write better -- or at all!  But anyway, this morning some thoughts did come to me that seemed to be well suited to this blog.  They were about joy.  I'm learning something about joy.

I was awake but having a hard time getting up.  I've had something called adrenal fatigue for several months and mornings are hardest.  I pretty much never wake up refreshed, so I have to choose to get moving.  As I do the energy slowly comes.  "This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it"  (Psalm 118:24) came to mind and I said it aloud.  The effect was immediate.  Not a huge effect, but an immediate lifting of my mood.   It's happened before, so I know that this choice of rejoicing, being thankful, is important.  The Word of God says that the joy of the Lord is our strength.  That's what I want to write about.

Joy is not an emotion.  Joy is a fruit of the Spirit.  (Galatians 5:23)  That means it is supernatural.  I don't think we hear enough about joy in that way.  I believe that joy is something that God provides us with to help us with life - even to give us life which is satisfying, meaningful, purpose filled, vibrant, and full.  When Jesus was praying in the upper room before going to out to Gethsemane, he said, "I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them." (John 17:13 NIV)

Joy is mentioned a lot more in the Bible than I realized until I looked in a concordance.  My attitude toward my day this morning showed me how
Wonderful balloons!
powerfully joy affects us.  Nothing changed except that I chose to align myself with a scripture on rejoicing.  I didn't try to rejoice.  I just agreed that God had made this day; He had given me breath to wake up; He is sovereign over this and every day; He is my God and Father; today is in His hands and so am I.  That is a reason to rejoice!

This physical challenge has required me to really look at my thoughts, because I can let it depress me.  Sometimes I have so little motivation, I can't tell if it is depression or the affect of physical fatigue on my mind.  Maybe it doesn't matter, because I still have to choose a response.  (This is one reason I've been reading so much!  Sometimes it's all I feel up to doing.)  But God was so gracious to show me how quickly His Word made a difference to my whole being this morning. Joy is supernatural, it is transcendent, and it transforms us from the inside in the presence of any circumstance.

Please do not think for one minute that I am saying we should all work harder to rejoice or suggesting a formula.  This is all about the grace we have from God in relationship with Him.  God made the way through the cross of Jesus and our part is to choose what we will agree with.  As I thought about the power of joy, three words came to mind.  When we face unwanted circumstances (even terrible ones) we can Accuse God (You are not good!  I reject you.  I deny your existence.  I hate you.); we can Argue with God (If you are loving, how can you let this happen?) or we can Trust God (I don't understand.  I don't like this, but You are here with me.  My hope is in You and I need you to carry me).

So Cute!  (source unknown)
This must be how Joy becomes our strength.  When we refuse to be alone in life's circumstances, we cling to God.  We know that everything Jesus has is inside us as well, for He is there.  When we get that, we are strong and we have hope.  Not our strength, but Jesus's.  And not just our human emotions, but Jesus' peace and joy are there.  Our souls can defer to the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ in us.  In Him we can overcome. We can rejoice in the fact that He is going with us through our valley of the shadow of death.  We know that He will bring us out to green pastures and quiet waters once again.  He will restore our souls and provide an overflowing cup of all good things. (Psalm 23)  And we will know Him better for having walked these paths together.

Joy is a huge gift.  Ask for more.  Jesus prayed that we would have His full measure of it.

February 28, 2014

Sailing Along!

My husband and I have been in a course called “Forming” that is truly life changing.  It’s not the course that is changing our lives, but the way we are learning to connect with God’s power to change.  He is the one who changes us, but most of us feel obligated to help Him to a greater or lesser degree.  God never meant for us to work hard at being alive in Christ, but many of us are never taught the alternative.
(sorry-used before -- taken from Staten Island Ferry)

The simple analogy for Forming’s approach to Christian transformation is the comparison of rowing and sailing.  The rowing method of life change is descriptive of the work we do to live up to the commands of scripture.  We study the Bible to understand the principles God lays out and to copy the methods of others whose story exhibits how this works, or whose encouragement cheers us on with promises and instruction.  We see examples of the life God wants for us and we try to get there.  We even pray to get there.  And we even make progress because God is so good.

The sailing method of life change is about entering into such a close and honest relationship with God that we are able to hear what He is revealing to us uniquely about where we are and where He is taking us in our walk with Him.  The effort we make is to commune with God and then what we hear and see from Him transforms us from the heart outward.  Change becomes joyful and feels so natural as our sails catch the wind of the Holy Spirit and we are carried forward.  We stand amazed and enthralled with the ride we are on with God.

I spent a lot of time rowing before I came into a closer relationship with the Holy Spirit, but my husband readily confesses that he was not a rower – or a sailor.  He says he was a drifter.  He was in a boat (had received salvation and saw God’s grace in his life) but he was just drifting along -- wherever.  After a few weeks of Forming class he was hearing that God had MUCH more for him if he would purposely and regularly engage with Him.  In other words, if he would put up the sail in his boat and operate the tiller, he would catch the wind!  Now Dan is enjoying morning quiet times with God and enthralled with being on his own journey.

One thing we talked about in class is spiritual disciplines.  Take that quiet time for instance.  A person can row through his quiet time by doing it as a requirement (as law).  And there may be benefit to this.  Quiet times are good.  But if it is a time of aligning your sails for the day, it can radically change your life.  Aligning your sail can look like this:  You find a scripture (or you are in a circumstance) that is speaking to you; arousing something in your heart.  It could be something very pleasant like awareness of a wonderful promise or hope or just God’s care for you.  It could something negative like worry that you don’t measure up to this scripture, or anger at someone that is getting in the way of your peace.  Maybe you are challenged by the scripture, maybe you are blessed and encouraged.  Either way, it is an invitation to come to God honestly and engage in a conversation with Him about it. 
God keeps us safe on this journey (Hatteras lighthouse)
If you have issues with the idea or the practice of hearing from God then the book, the class, and the exercises will help.  I, personally, discovered awhile ago and to my delight, that God does speak to me during prayer and journaling.  I have been to retreats and conferences and Bible Studies and several Christian counselors through the years and each one helped me in the way I needed it at the time.  I am so grateful for each one!  But when I met my Wonderful Counselor and began “seeing him” all the time, I was never the same.  Things that held me back were forever healed in my soul.  That was before “Forming” but I am now learning more about how and why this relationship is God’s plan for every single child.  I just thought I was lucky!

Truly, the idea of having this blog and sharing what I have learned about life in Christ came out of the wonder and joy of relating to God under grace.  Grace became my way of growing up in faith and that is why I see so much beyond the narrow gate of salvation by faith in the Cross.  We do not enter into a life of trying to measure up to a higher standard (with promised higher rewards at the end).  We enter into a fantastic relationship with our Father, our Brother and our Helper.  

Forming is the work of David Takle and I hope you will look into it if you think you might be tired of rowing.  Blessings to you in the wonderful name of Jesus!

February 7, 2014

Be blessed to know you are holy.

Listen to God's Word in Leviticus 20:8. "I am the Lord, who makes you holy."
(source unknown)
     God's holiness is not what he does. Holy is who he is, the Holy One. He is without spot or blemish. His eyes are too pure to look on sin. Yet his plan of redemption called for Jesus to take our sins on himself and die to make us holy in him. We cannot make ourselves holy, no matter how hard we try or how perfectly we live. Our perfection is not holiness. Jesus was the only perfect one. The Hebrew word qadhash implies being pure, devoted to God, set apart for a special task or the worship of God.

For that definition we qualify, for God has chosen us and set us apart for a special purpose in life and to worship Him.  Jesus makes us pure and calls us to devotion.  Our response to this determines how much we get to enjoy who God is and what he has done on our behalf.  From our God-given position we can live the life we were created for.
      Beloved one, be blessed with knowing your holy Father. Be blessed with knowing how the holiness of Jesus is counted to your credit in his death on the cross. Nothing you ever do can make him love you less or love you more. Be free from your perfectionism and the perfectionism of others, because through your Father's eyes he sees you as perfect in his perfect and beloved Son. Be blessed with joy in God's holiness and your own. Our culture does not associate joy with holiness, but God says that our joyful shouting and singing is a celebration who he is!

Does it seem farfetched to also celebrate that the beauty of his holiness extends to you through Jesus Christ?  I believe that it is receiving this new position and identity that enables us to advance in holy conduct.  All the trying harder in the world gains us nothing because no matter how much we want to we can never live the life that Jesus lived, and that life is the standard.  But when all our guilt and fear is relieved by the holiness of Jesus in us, we can draw near and allow him to transform us from the inside out.

(Pipestem State Park, WV 2013)
While conduct is how we tend to judge, God looks at the heart.  When he sees a heart that trusts Jesus he is pleased.  A change of heart is a miraculous thing accomplished by the Holy Spirit.  All we have to do is give him permission and abide securely in a relationship of trust.  There may be layers of false beliefs to be removed, wounds to be healed, but a heart put into the hands of God in the Holy Spirit will be changed and the whole person will end up looking more and more like Jesus.  Don't be afraid to own the holiness that God ascribes to us.  It will lead to the transformation you have been hoping for.  That's God's promise.


February 16, 2013

Thankfulness in all things

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV

Or let’s try it another way, “In everything give thanks:  for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” KJV

where's my snow? (downloaded from an email going around)
Giving thanks is always God’s will for us, but aren’t some things easier to be thankful for, or in, than others?!   What the Bible tells us, though, is that we can be, and are to be, thankful in everything.  Last time I wrote about seeing joy in trials because they are the means God uses to make us complete, lacking in nothing.  But I still had a disconnect between the circumstances themselves and being thankful.

The verse above can be read to mean:  circumstances are God’s will, so we should be thankful for them all.  Another way to read it is:  giving thanks is always God’s will for us, so we should not let any circumstance get in the way of it.  This is how I understand what God is saying.

How does God expect me to be thankful in the midst of bad things?  Are they His will?  I believe that God’s sovereignty means that He allows everything that touches me in life.  I also believe that God is always good even if some things that happen are not good.  God let the Fall happen, and since it did, He also allows the results of sin to remain with us.  So bad things are not God’s will, but still, it is His will to allow them to be present and to touch our lives.

growing in a hard place  (Zion Park, Utah)
This troubles us.  We can get really angry at God over the things He fails to prevent even if He doesn’t want them to happen.  And then there is the issue of omnipotence.  God is all-powerful and yet He doesn’t use His power to protect us from some things.  He didn’t want us to know evil, but He still allowed Adam and Eve to be tempted.  His will was for them to continue to live with Him in perfect relationship, but still He removed them from the Garden.

The understanding I have come to is that God is committed to Goodness, and that sometimes means He must do what is good for us even though it hurts Him and hurts us.  I know it’s an old example, but think of a sick child who needs to see a doctor.  The child doesn’t want to go.  The child’s idea of getting better does not include getting a shot or going into the hospital for surgery.  But you know it’s the way to healing.  You can’t explain it to him but you allow him to be subjected to pain for a good reason.  Because you have a close relationship with your child, he trusts you.  He receives comfort from your presence.  He believes you love him even though you have taken him somewhere that hurts.

Isn’t it easy to see that God is the parent and we are the children?  He is there to comfort and help us if we trust Him.  He sees things that we don’t and He hurts with us even though He chooses not to take away the trial we are experiencing.

a journey worth taking   (Denali Park, Alaska)
But why thankfulness?  It’s hard to think of the child in our example thanking the parent for the medicine or the hospital procedure.  Speaking for myself, I also tended to view trials as unavoidable evils.  The lesson of finding joy in the fact that God is doing a good work in me is part of the change in that attitude, but there is more.

To be thankful is really to choose to accept whatever is going on - to accept it and to say “thank you God".  What I have learned is that even accepting the idea that I should be thankful in all things points me to God when something hard happens.  That is a very important beginning.  Instead of shifting into my own reaction, I have to stop and think.  At first it’s like “Oh no, what in the world is there to be thankful for in this?!  Father, I choose to say “thank you” but I don’t see why.”  Then as I choose to want to really mean it, I’m able to say, “Help me to see how to be thankful!  You must have something good in this because You let it happen.  Show me what you want me to know!  How can I handle this?  What should I do?”

lotus blossom   (Kyoto, Japan)
Believe it or not, this is great!  I am drawn toward God’s good and perfect will for me in the midst of bad/imperfect circumstances.  Suddenly the issue is about God’s wisdom which will enable me to see the way out that He promises He has provided (see James 1:5 and 1 Corinthians 10:13).  When I reject my situation, I am inadvertently rejecting God’s place in it for me.  He has a plan, but I’m not interested!

The story that helped me most was of Abraham taking Isaac up the mountain to be sacrificed.  In seeming contradiction to Who God is, He lets Abraham know that he must kill his miraculous son of promise!  Rejection of this plan would be understandable.  But because Abraham accepts it and trusts God in the midst of it, he is shown a “ram in the thicket” at just the right time and Isaac is saved.  

Something to remember!   (Belize, C.A.)
What I have found for myself is that if I just turn from my natural reactions and “think thankful” - think “God’s way out”, the power of the circumstance begins to lessen and the power of my faith in God to prove sovereign in goodness takes over.  It’s amazing how true the Holy Spirit has been to remind me of this opportunity at times I would be least likely to remember!  God is so good to help us in our weakness when we sincerely desire to be changed!

January 19, 2013

Counting it all joy

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”   James 1:2-3 ESV
spring sage blooming in the desert
This is not a verse that I would have thought of writing about.  That is because I haven't really counted my trials as joy, and it reminds me that at times I have failed to even agree with this command!  It’s not that I didn’t want to be joyful (remember that I like to do it right!), but a new friend just opened my eyes to what James is saying in a way that is making sense to my heart.

What we are to count as joy is becoming perfect and complete, lacking in nothing!    Now that is something to celebrate!  The trials are the conditions of life that invite us to dig into God’s word, to believe what we find, to choose what we will do with it, to stand firm, to pray.  They highlight our need for more than our own strength and if they continue, we begin to develop perseverance, or steadfastness.  It is the standing firm with steadfastness that brings maturity.  It is the digging deeper that perfects us.

The friend that shared this is a breast cancer survivor of 13 years who found out over Christmas that the cancer has returned, metastasized to her bones.  If she can count it all joy, I am listening!

Then the next morning I read this in Jesus Calling, my devotional:  “I am leading you along the high road, but there are descents as well as ascents….Learn to trust Me when things go “wrong.”  Disruptions…highlight your dependence on Me.  Trusting acceptance of trials brings blessings that far out weigh them all.”  (page 19) 
steep hiking in Bryce Canyon

What I am hearing from the Lord is a very simple way to improve my perspective on life’s challenges and heartaches.  It is to consider them the pathway that is taking me, hand in hand with Jesus, to becoming complete, lacking in nothing.  They are not random, they are not bad luck, or punishment, or because God doesn’t love me as much as someone else.  They are things He allows (or puts) on the path we are walking together.  He meets them with me and endures them with me, and holds the outcome in His loving hands.  My response can be fear, or frustration, or despair, or it can be continued trust with thanksgiving for who He is with me.  And it can be worship!

photo sent in an email (source unknown)
I love these words from a song we sing at church:  “The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning, time to sing my song again.  Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes!  Bless the Lord o my soul, o my soul, worship His holy Name!  Sing like never before, o my soul, worship His holy Name.” (Ten Thousand Reasons (Bless the Lord) by Jonas Myrin & Matt Redman).

A couple of months ago I would not have thought that this was an issue for me because I was rocking along pretty well.  But God, in His perfect wisdom, saw fit to introduce a challenge that pulled deeper unbelief to the surface.  This was really a gift to be counted as joy because it exposed things that needed to be dealt with.  The great thing was that even though I felt negative emotions connected with unbelief, I knew where to run and I ran straight to Jesus.  It doesn’t matter what our reaction is as long as we know where to go with it!  I poured out my heart – every fear, every doubt, and then let Jesus talk!  Now that the dust has settled over that issue (which hasn’t gone away at all), I am grateful to receive a deeper perspective on what it means to count it all joy.

I have tasted and seen that my true joy is the Presence of Jesus himself.  He is the only One who can answer every question and satisfy my heart.  I do not want to be robbed of that joy with Him just because this world is fallen.  Who is in charge here, anyway?  Jesus is Lord and He is mine!  He is yours.