Sunday, January 31, 2010

Family is a Blessing

I'm at my sister's house in Minnesota right now visiting with her family.  Her daughter, Mandi, just got married to a great guy named Scott on Friday night.  It was a beautiful wedding and she was a gorgeous bride and he looked so handsome in his military uniform. It was such a blessing to be a part of this special moment with my sister, who sat beside me, sobbing as she watched her baby get married.  It was such a beautiful moment.  I know I will be doing the same thing when my babies get married!

My sister and I have been best friends all of our lives and I think a lot of that had to do with our military upbringing...when you move around a lot, you tend to learn to really depend on one another for stability and comfort.  We've always done that with each other.  We only fought once, that I recall, and that was about a boy in high school.  Silly...

We laugh because her daughter, Mandi, looks and acts just like me.  I've always been very outgoing and full of energy and a little on the high-maintenance side (sorry, Mandi) but Marie has never been bothered by that.  She was always the "wind beneath my wings" so to speak - she liked to let me shine.  We all need a Marie in our lives, in my opinion.  My daughter, Stephanie, is just like Marie, too.  She is dependable, sturdy, quiet, but strong and someone you can always trust.  We always say how cool it is that God gave us each other to raise.  It makes me feel less heart-sick that she lives so far away, I suppose (she lives in Minnesota and I live in South Carolina).

We always thought we'd grow up and live in houses right beside each other.  Our husbands would be best friends.  Our kids would play together.  We'd have cookouts every weekend.  We had it all figured out.  Until they moved to Minnesota about 18 years ago and I knew there was NO WAY I could live in the frozen tundra!  I am always amazed how when I see her, which is not very often, we pick up where we left off.  There is never an awkward moment.  We are still so close, though miles have kept us apart physically the miles cannot touch our bond.  Maybe you have someone in your life like that.  What a blessing!

Seeing my sweet niece get married the other night made me realize how much I've missed by not being able to be there for her while she grew up.  I mean, I know she knows I love her, but to be able to be there on a day to day basis would have truly been such a blessing.  Family is just the best, isn't it?  Yes, there are times of struggle and times of heartache in families, but we are in it together - and nothing can ever separate that bond we share - no matter if we live 2 minutes or 2 days apart.

My sister is so blessed and such a blessing to everyone around her.  I can see that she has gained the respect, love and admiration of those around her here in Minnesota.  Though her "family" is mostly on the East Coast, she has a family here now and that brings me tremendous joy.  Being away from her all these years and only seeing her a couple of times a year (on good years) has been hard but seeing her in her element makes me realize that no matter where God decides to put her, she is going to shine.  She can't help it. 

I will never get over how someone I haven't spend much time with can look and act so much like me! Mandi and I have always had that in common and it's very sweet.  Congratulations to Mandi and Scott - my prayer is that they live a long, happy, blessed life together and that they will always know how much they are loved by their far away (in body) but close (in spirit) Aunt Leslie.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Living Water

Yesterday I talked about the manna that God miraculously fed the Israelites in the wilderness as they wandered through the wilderness en route to the Promised Land.  Today I'm reading in Exodus 17 about how they were grumbling because of their severe thirst while in the wilderness and it brought back some not-so-pleasant memories!  I remember on Survivor, I never thought I could be that thirsty.  It's past what you could imagine, worse than I ever thought it would be.  You get delirious, forgetful, and you say really stupid things when you're dehydrated.  It may be how the Israelites forgot God's goodness and miracles, I don't presume to know for sure, but I have been extremely thirsty before and I get it.

I love the imagery of the rock that God had Moses strike with his staff and then water poured out for them to drink and be quenched.  The rock, to me, symbolizes Jesus Christ who is also called the Rock of our Salvation.  He was struck while on the Cross to pour forth His blood for us to be cleansed of our filthy sin. We grumble, complain and are delirious and must come to the Rock for life. 

When Jesus tells us in John 7:37 that "if any man is thirsty, come to Me", He's not talking about a physical drink or even physical thirst.  The word He uses is the Greek word pinō and it means "figuratively, to receive into the soul what serves to refresh strengthen, nourish it unto life eternal".

Imagine of a glass of water sitting on your counter.  It's cool, it's refreshing, you know it will quench your thirst and you are thirsty - really thirsty.  Just knowing that water will quench your thirst is not enough, is it?  "Oh, I agree that water will quench my thirst!  I have no doubts."  But if I don't drink it in, I will not be quenched.  I will just believe I would.  What if the Israelites shouted "Yes! We have water that will quench us!" and then they never drank it in for themselves?

Believing in Christ means we drink Him in...not just that we agree with who He is.  Satan believes Jesus is who He says He is, too.  But He doesn't drink Him in for himself...instead, he is the one who will draw us away from Christ by promising us things of this world that will not last and have no eternal life in them. 

Do you really drink in the Living Water of Jesus or do you just know that if you did you would be saved?  It took me years to figure this one out.  Drink Him in, friends.  He offers it to us freely - even though we grumble, complain and are delirious at times.  Without Him, we will die.  We can drink in God's life, or we can die in our thirst, chasing after the lies of the world that will never satisfy us.  Just knowing Jesus is the Rock of our Salvation is not enough, we must drink Him in for ourselves and allow Him to give us life.

To read about the story in the Bible of Moses and the Israelites that I've referenced the past two posts, you can go to Exodus 14-17.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Manna

I wrote this poem a while ago but it came to mind this morning as I read in Exodus about the Israelites journey to the Promised Land.  I always love being reminded of God's provision of manna, bread from heaven, so they would not starve on their journey.  He provides for us, too...

Starving and delirious, 
they begged God for some food
Discouraged and exhausted, 
one by one they came unglued

But God, He heard their cries for help
His heart was stirred that day
So He sent some flakes from heaven
that He scattered on their way

No one knew what the flakes were
that fell from the morning sky
So they called it “Manna” on that day 
God’s miraculous supply

Then God spoke to Moses 
and He told Him what to do
“Each person should collect their share –
about a quart or two”

They all collected just enough; 
they had their fill each one
They were nourished and were satisfied
another miracle had begun

So early every morning, 
 manna would descend from the sky
The Israelites woke early
to collect each day’s supply

They had to grind it first, 
to make it fine enough to eat
Using pottery and grinding tools
it took hours to complete

And thinking back to manna,
I can’t help but to compare
The bread that fell from heaven then
today we still can share

It’s not a flaky substance,
but it’s nourishing and sweet
I collect my share each morning
when with my Father I do meet

I don’t grind it with a grinding stone;
no I grind it in my heart
As I meditate on the words of life
God will lovingly impart

We’re starving and delirious
without His precious food
So God supplies abundantly
so we don’t come unglued.

Leslie Nease

John 6:32-35 Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."  "Sir," they said, "from now on give us this bread."Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I Was Wrr...Wr...Wrong

Remember back in the show Happy Days when Fonzie was trying to admit he was wrong about something and he just couldn't get the words out? I always thought that was so funny. Until I realized I was doing the same thing in my life. Admitting we are wrong takes guts - and humility. And admitting we are wrong is the first step to true repentance.

When I say that word, repent, does it make you think of the wild-looking guy on the street corner with a wide eyes yelling at everyone to “Repent!” while he carries a sign on him that says "THE END IS NEAR!"? Yeah, I used to think that, too. I didn't really understand what the word really meant much, but I knew it seemed "overused" and "exaggerated" in the fire and brimstone preaching that Hollywood exploited in movies and entertainment. But not anymore.

That was what was missing in my "Counterfeit Christianity" - true repentance. I believed Jesus was who He said He was, I knew He died on the cross and I even acknowledged I was a sinner, but never really understood that repentance was such a big deal. It took twenty years of my life to realize that I was missing this important and crucial element, and once I finally repented from my sin, I was finally able to embrace a true relationship with Christ as Lord and Savior of my life. Believing in Jesus was simply not enough - I had to believe in Him enough that my life was surrendered to Him and His leading.

I am shocked at how often the gospel is presented without a true presentation of what repentance is, because without it, there is no salvation.  I read a book by John MacArthur called "The Gospel According to Jesus". There is a chapter on repentance and what it means, and what it doesn't mean. I literally put the book down after marking up just about the entire chapter and yelled out "AMEN!!" when I finished it! Here are some of the quotes from the book that shook me to the core:
  • page 179 - Repentance is not merely shame or sorrow for sin, although genuine repentance always involves an element of remorse. It is a redirection of the human will, a purposeful decision to foresake all unrighteousness and pursue righteousness instead.
  • The call to repentance is not a command to make sin right before turning to Christ in faith. Rather it is a command to recognize one's lawlessness and hate it, to turn one's back on it and flee to Chirst, embracing Him with wholehearted devotion.
  • The word repentance comes from the Greek word metanoia - which means "the change of mind of those who have begun to abhor their errors and misdeeds, and have determined to enter upon a better course of life, so that it embraces both a recognition of sin and sorrow for it and hearty amendment, the tokens and effects of which are good deeds."
  • Page 180 - Repentance begins with recognition of sin - the understanding that we are sinners, that our sin is an affront to a holy God, and more precisely, that we are personally responsible for our own guilt. The repentance that leads to salvation must also include recognition of who Christ is along with some understanding of His right to govern people's lives.
I could go on and on, but I'll let you read the book for yourself! But I do want to say that I see clearly why we hate the word “repent” so much. Because it goes against our human will to be "right" and it requires great humility, something rare and difficult in these days of "I'm right, you're wrong" and "It's not my fault!". It requires surrender of our lives to Christ's Lordship - something that also takes great humility and trust. In today's world, it almost seems ridiculous that anyone would ever do any of this:
  • admit wrongdoing by assuming personal responsibility for our sin 
  • take entire blame without passing it on to someone else 
  • surrender to someone else's way of life besides our own 
  • give up trying to control our own destiny
  • trust ANYONE wholeheartedly
  • obey anyone else - I mean, we are the boss, right? Who knows better than us how to live??
I remember thinking "If God didn't want me to sin, why would He make me this way?" and so I would continue to live a life of self-centeredness, living for my own purposes and pleasures.  I was not taking personal responsibility. I was blaming God for my sin by accusing Him of making me a sinner! But when I realized He did not make me a sinner, but that I was born into a sinful world that was corrupt, I realized that He made me to be anything BUT a sinner - and that He had provided a way for me to live the life He intended for me - through Jesus Christ. But I had to get over myself -my pride - my lack of personal responsibility and repent of my waywardness.  I had to stop saying "I'm sorry" and say "I'm through".

So, you see, that is why we hate the word repent.  We can't get around the fact that Jesus said "REPENT" many times in the Bible - and He meant it. I think it is the true test. The place where Jesus looks us in the eyes and says "Are you in?" and we are then faced with a decision that may seem impossible on the surface, but once we turn our backs and walk toward Christ and away from our sin, He empowers us to live righteously - not perfectly - but righteously because He can then be our righteousness for us - something we are incapable of being without Him.

Please know this – repentance is not a work we perform. Works do not get us to heaven, not at all. Repentance is just a turning away from sin and toward the Savior, letting Him do the work for us because we are completely incapable of doing it ourselves. We get no credit out of this at all. All the credit goes to Him! In 2 Corinthians 7:9, Paul reminds us that even repentance is something that God initiates in us – read this carefully...."Now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

Those verses reiterate that God is the One who initiates repentance in a person. Godly sorrow is genuine sorrow that leads to repentance. It makes us realize we are wrong, we've offended the Holy God and we are in need of a Savior. Worldly repentance makes us sad and sorry, but not for the sin...for being caught! Godly sorrow takes humility.  We realize, very quickly, that repentance seems a lot harder to do before we actually take the step - and that once we do, it's truly the best decision we could have ever made for our lives and He makes it worth every single moment.

Guys like Ezekiel or Jeremiah from the Bible seemed incredibly nuts to everyone, but they had a message from God and they carried it forth so you and I could know the truth about who God is and how we can have a relationship with Him.  Sure, they used some strange tactics (God told them to and they were just being obedient! - seriously, have you read in Ezekiel what God had this man do for Him?), but people paid attention, didn't they?

My methods of sharing the hope of Christ and the importance of repentance are different than these people you'll find on the street corners - I prefer to share my faith through living it out and loving people through serving but my motive is the same - love for people and a desire for everyone to know the Truth - Jesus Christ. 

Scriptures for further study on repentance: Matthew 4:17; Luke 13:3 & 5; Luke 24:47; 2 Timothy 2:25; Matthew3:8; 1John2:3-6; 3:17; Ezekiel 33:18-19; 2Chronicles 7:14; Jonah3:10

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Which Path Should I Take?

Do you ever have a few options to choose from before you and you wonder which path is the right one?  Maybe it's a job - should you take it?  Or perhaps it's another huge decision you need to make - what is the right decision?  Maybe you are wondering if you should take that mission trip?  What does God really want you to do and can you make the wrong decision?

I was recently in the process of making some decisions and was struggling a little bit.  I don't want to take the wrong path, since last year was so difficult for me (for more info on my struggles last year, you can read this blog entry).  So I went straight to the Word for some direction and it was so wonderful what I found!  I realized very quickly that as a child of God, I need to be confident in His leading and in His direction and focus on my relationship with Him, drawing close to Him, and He will lead me in the right direction every time.

Look at these scriptures....

Psalm 37:23-24  23 The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
      He delights in every detail of their lives.
 24 Though they stumble, they will never fall,
      for the Lord holds them by the hand.

Psalm 32:8  8 The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
      I will advise you and watch over you.

Psalm 25:8-10   8 The Lord is good and does what is right;
      he shows the proper path to those who go astray.
 9 He leads the humble in doing right,
      teaching them his way.
 10 The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness
      all who keep his covenant and obey his demands.

Psalm 23:1-3  1 The Lord is my shepherd;
      I have all that I need.
 2 He lets me rest in green meadows;
      he leads me beside peaceful streams.
    3 He renews my strength.
   He guides me along right paths,
      bringing honor to his name.
 
Proverbs 3:5-6  5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
      do not depend on your own understanding.
 6 Seek his will in all you do,
      and he will show you which path to take.

Isaiah 30:20-21  20 Though the Lord gave you adversity for food
      and suffering for drink,
   he will still be with you to teach you.
      You will see your teacher with your own eyes.
 21 Your own ears will hear him.
      Right behind you a voice will say,
   “This is the way you should go,”
      whether to the right or to the left.

I'm sure there are even more scriptures, but you get the idea.  How do I know which path to take?  Well, according to the above scriptures, it's not about focusing on the paths before me - it's about focusing on God.  It's not about my own wisdom, it's about His.  It's not about being right or wrong....it's about trusting Him even when it doesn't make sense or it seems as if I've made the wrong choice.  God is in control of my life.  I love that Psalm 25:8 says He shows the proper path to those who have gone astray.  So even if I go astray, He will find me and get me back on track and He never wastes my pain.  His eye is always on me.  He is always there, according to Isaiah 30.  He is my Redeemer!

The most tempting thing to do is to freeze and not make a decision out of fear of making the wrong one.  That, my friends, is a decision.  It's a decision to do nothing!  We must trust Him to guide us and walk forward, unafraid.  The only fear we should have that motivates us is the fear of God, not a fear of making the wrong choice.  Seek Him in your decisions - seek His will.  He will not let the godly fall.  I heard it said once that our fear of God is not paralyzing, it is mobilizing.  It's a fear that comes out of the respect and awe we have for Him and it gives us confidence and a deep desire to do His will.  We are filled with His Spirit when we seek Him above everything else and He will guide us in the right path.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Are You Free?

I read this in Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, my all-time favorite devotional book.  I just had to share it even though it was from July 22...I tend to read ahead sometimes (ok, all the time!).  This book is written from a "Jesus perspective" as if He is speaking directly to us.  It expresses Truth and has scripture references to help you dig a little deeper.  The scriptures for this reading are Ephesians 5:8-10; Matthew 23:8 and Matthew 6:1.


Find freedom through seeking to please Me above all else.  You can have only one Master.  When you let others' expectations drive you, you scatter your energy to the winds.  Your own desire to look good can also drain your energy.  I am your Master, and I do not drive you to be what you are not.  Your pretense displeases Me, especially when it is in My "service".  Concentrate on staying close to Me at all times. It is impossible to be inauthentic while you are focusing on My Presence.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free, friends.  We bog ourselves down with so many expectations and become overwhelmed trying to please everyone else when all along, we only need to please God.  What pleases Him?  A heart that is focused on Him.  Period. 

Be free today...


-Leslie

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

He Waits to be Wanted

He waits to be wanted.  I read this quote yesterday morning from AW Tozer and it hurt my heart deeply.  God is so patient with us.  So faithful.  So loving.  So kind.  And yet we get so busy...so distracted...so prideful and self-absorbed that we can't see that He waits for us. Why would He love us so much that He would wait for us to want Him?

He waits to be wanted.  Why should He have to wait to be wanted?  Why don't we want Him?  What is it that we want instead of Him?  Those are the questions that keep coming to me and I don't have any good answers.  He offers peace, forgiveness, joy, goodness, faithfulness, self-control, love, gentleness and patience.  The world offers lies, hurts, unfulfilled promises, hypocrisy, hate and heartache.  It seems like there would be no competition!  And yet...we seem to chase all those "things" with reckless abandon.  All the while....


He waits to be wanted.  Would I do that?  Usually when someone rejects me, I shake the dust off my feet and move on.  I don't wait to be wanted.  Their loss, in my book.  If they don't want to be my friend, I usually just write them off.  But Jesus knows we are just being foolish when we reject Him, He knows what is best for us so He pursues us.  His identity is not wrapped up in whether we accept Him or not - He just loves us so much that He waits for us to come to our senses.  So why does He pursue us?  Because He knows without His intervention, we will face judgment and He does not want us to have to face that.  He loves us too much.

God must judge sin because He is Holy...perfect...and good.  Sin goes completely against God's holiness.  He must judge sin because He is good and it is in His character to be just and right- not because He is mean or unloving.  Oh, but He offers us an opportunity to receive grace instead - through Christ's sacrifice.  Can you understand this?  I want you to really get this...the God of the Universe loves you.  He wants a relationship with you and He waits to be wanted.  Not so He can be validated - He does not need our validation.  He waits to be wanted because He loves us and He knows that if we reject Him, we will face judgment.  He doesn't want that for any of us.  Period. (2 Peter 3:9; 3:15)

My pride is what kept me from God for so long.  I'll be honest - I didn't like having someone tell me I was a sinner.  Who were they to tell me I was a sinner?  Geez.  The nerve!  I did good things all the time.  I was a loving, caring person.  But I also did bad things.  And even one bad thing is enough to separate me from a Holy God.  So in order to be able to restore that relationship, I had to turn from my sin to my Savior, who accepted me with open arms.  It's called "repentance" in the Bible and that word gets a bad rap, honestly.

Repentance is a gift, not a curse.  It's not just saying "I'm sorry" but saying "I'm through!" and then turning away from sin toward Christ, trusting Him to give you strength to stay turned away from that sin. Oh, I admit it was not easy.  I liked my sinfulness.  I wondered if I could live a life without some of the things I enjoyed so much.  As a matter of fact, I still struggle with sin.  I mess up all the time...but I try to learn from my sins and I seek His forgiveness and grace with each one, admitting when I fail.  I allow Him to use those mistakes and grow me into a better person.  He gave me a new life when I accepted Him.  He has given me new desires and a longing to be more like Him.  I could never do this without Jesus.

He waits to be wanted.  Is He still waiting for you?

Some scripture references that might be helpful to you if you want to hear what the Bible says about the Jesus who waits so patiently and lovingly for you:

Romans 3:10-31
Galatians 3:19-24
John 3:1-21

Need more info?  Please call 1-888-NEED HIM or visit www.needhim.org

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Fitness - Body & Spirit

Before I began working in ministry full time, I was a full-time personal trainer and fitness instructor.  I would also do presentations at corporations, schools and fitness centers to educate and encourage people about the importance of physical fitness and how to work the discipline into their lives.  I had a pretty serious battle with obesity in the early 90's after giving birth to my son and through a change in my activity level and some life-style changes with my diet, I was able to lose the weight.  I still teach fitness classes part time and find tremendous accountability and pleasure in this.


I've noticed that since becoming a believer and an encourager for others as a speaker/writer, the disciplines are very similar in both physical and spiritual fitness.  I even wrote a book about it a few years ago called Body Builders.  I wanted to jot a few of these similarities down for you to see for yourself.  Maybe you are struggling with keeping your commitment to be more physically fit this year or maybe it's the spiritual fitness you are struggling with?  No matter what, I pray these scriptures and observations will encourage you to continue running the race!
  • They both take a lot of work and self-discipline (Philippians 2:12-13)
  • There is no quick fix for either. (Philippians 1:6)
  • You need accountability in both areas to succeed. (Hebrews 10:25)
  • It's easy to make excuses not to do either one. (Proverbs 12:15)
  • The benefits far outweigh the demands. (1 John 5:12)
  • Physical and spiritual fitness do not take time from your life - they put life into your time. (John 14:6)
  • You need rest to recover both physically and spiritually.  When you pour out, you need time for re-filling. (Psalm 90:17)
  • Lifting will make you stronger in both.  In physical fitness - lifting weights; in spiritual fitness - lifting His Name (1 Timothy 2:8).
  • We should not compare ourselves with others in either one, for we are each designed specifically by God for the purpose He has for our lives. (Galatians 6:4-5)
  • It's easy to get over-zealous about either physical or spiritual fitness and alienate those around us inadvertently. (Romans 10:1-4)
  • Both are extremely beneficial in growing our confidence. (Proverbs 3:25-26)
  • It's inspiring to see someone who is succeeding in being spiritually or physically fit. (Proverbs 28:12)
  • It's always a struggle in the beginning, but once you start to see and feel results, you wonder how you ever lived without it. (Joshua 1:7-9)
I know I've probably missed some, but these are the ones that come to my mind as I think of the similarities.  Maybe you can think of more?  If so, please leave them in the comments section below! One thing I know - without God's help in both, I'd be a mess.  He is the One who gives me strength to fight the battle and equips me along the way, both physically and spiritually.

1 Timothy 4:8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.  

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Life = Risk

Think you cannot succeed because you've failed?  Think again...

The Voice of Truth

I wrote this poem a little over a year ago...and was feeling compelled to share it with you today. I hope it will bless you, no matter what you are going through today.  

I love you.

Those were the words I heard as I ran away in fright
I ran because I didn't have the courage left to fight

I love you.

Though His words were true, I did not comprehend
That His love is unconditional and on it I could depend 

I love you.

There He goes again!  I cannot run away
His voice was getting stronger now - my knees were giving way

I love you.

Even though I didn't love Him like I should?
Why would He love me anyway?  I'd never do Him any good.

I love you.

Oh, His voice was sweet and gentle and so clear!
So why was I afraid to trust a love that was sincere?

You're worthless.

The other voice is loud - the one that tells me lies.
I'm weary from this battle now, my tired spirit cries.

He's mad at you.

See, I knew that it was too good to be true
After all I've done to hurt Him, after all I've put Him through

You're a fraud.

This couldn't be truer - I've pretended and deceived
I based my faith on religious acts, but I never truly believed.

I love you.
 

There He is again!  I feel more safe and sure
The Voice of Truth is speaking now - so gentle and so pure.

You're priceless.


Could it be the Truth - that Jesus died for me?
A price that no one else could pay - to set my spirit free!

I'm not mad at you.

He reminded me that His wrath was satisfied
On the day that Jesus gave His life and was brutally crucified

I love you.

I couldn't live this life of pretending it wasn't so
That lying voice was silenced now! It was time for it to go

I'm sorry.

Please forgive me Lord! I've sinned and gone astray!
Would you forgive me for my sin and live in me today?

I love you.

I believe Him now, and I receive this truth for me
I feel the chains are lifted and I'm finally living free!

I love Him.

So my life has changed, I'm not living like before
His Holy Spirit's presence in me has given me hope for what's in store! 


Jeremiah 31:3
..."I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Confessions of a Broken Christian


I'm broken.  I'm sad and I'm angry.  I've been praying about how to handle all the emotions I'm feeling inside as I read about and look at pictures of the tragedy in Haiti.  It's truly overwhelming.  I am heavily burdened about these people and what they are going through right now.  I suppose that is why I got so defensive when I heard about a leader in the Evangelical Christian community that spoke up yesterday to the media and declared that what is happening in Haiti is a result of their pact with the devil.

Immediately, I posted something on my Facebook (I will admit, I didn't pray about it first - it was a knee-jerk reaction that stemmed from emotion) about how just because I'm a believer in Jesus does not mean I agree with him and how I felt he was wrong.  I know I did this because I'm painfully aware that there are so many people that are just waiting for the Christian community to mess up so they can justify they are right in assuming we are all judgmental and condemning.  As a believer, it seems I'm constantly having to fight against this stereotype - especially when the media seems to hone in on the failures or quotes of people that seem to go against the very message of forgiveness and grace that Christ offers. 

Today after my quiet time, I took down my message on Facebook.  Not because I agree with what the leader said, but because I was wrong and honestly I was convicted.  I was wrong to try to defend myself and my beliefs. Why should I have to defend with words when the Lord is clear that my works are what prove Christianity to be true?  Jesus said in Luke 7:35 "Wisdom is proved to be right by the lives of those who follow it."  My life needs to speak, not my mouth.  Oh, when will I get this?!  When Jesus was confronted, He didn't speak.  He kept quiet because He knew no matter what He said, He would be attacked.  He knew the Truth and He lived the Truth and that was all that mattered.

When I come up against this fellow-believer publicly and become angry and defensive, it just divides, it doesn't unify.  I was very wrong in doing this.  If I have a problem with him, I should have gone to him privately according to Matthew 18.  Christ is so clear that He wants unity in the body of Christ - that is why it was one of His last prayers to God in John 17 before He went to the cross.  Instead of focusing on what this other believer said that bothered me, I believe I should instead pray for him and show him grace - the same grace that was extended to me by God.  And instead of drawing attention to what he said, I should be focusing on what I can do to help these people in Haiti.

God tells me that He is my Defender.  I do not have to defend myself or my faith - He can do that just fine without my help.  He tells me to love, to serve and to give - not to judge and condemn.  So today...I'm choosing the better way.  Please accept my apologies if my remarks on Facebook offended you.  I believe I spoke out of turn and definitely without wisdom - especially as a leader in the Christian community. I'm so very sorry.  God is not finished with me yet - I'm still in a process just like everyone else!  Yes, I am broken but God is slowly putting me back together.   I'm so sad that the focus of so many has now turned to crucifying this leader (who, by the way, has done some amazing things for God in his life) and not to the real issue - what can we do to help Haiti?  May God bless and keep them all - and may we be unified in purpose to live out what we say we believe.

Psalm 19:14 May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to You, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Proverbs 21:23 Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Suffering


A few years ago I went through a very difficult time health-wise. I was facing major surgery and I had many well-meaning people surround me and tell me that if I would just have enough faith, I could get well and wouldn't have to have surgery. As days passed and I did not heal, I began to think my faith wasn't big enough - that I was weak and pathetic. I ended up having the surgery and as a result, I was healed (thank you Lord!).

Sometimes God has other plans for us - plans we don't completely understand. I wrote this poem to encourage people who are believing God for a miracle but have not seen it happen yet - at least not in the way they had hoped and expected. I pray that if you or someone you love is going through a difficult time right now that you will be encouraged by this poem I called "Suffering"....

They told me “Just have faith! You must believe it’s true!
Because believing is the key to this illness leaving you!”

They quoted verses on healing, said Jesus died so we wouldn't be sick;
They told me if I’d just claim it, this illness I would kick.

So I prayed and cried and wondered why the Lord seemed so unwilling
To heal my hurting body and answer to my bidding.

My prayers I prayed unwavering and I believed all the right verses
But instead of the hopeful blessings I felt my life was full of curses.

Then one day as I was praying the Lord spoke to me through a verse
He said suffering produces character and that my life could be much worse.

He showed me that the purpose of my suffering would be
A closer walk with Him and His faithfulness I would see.

During suffering and in illness we can draw closer to our Jesus!
And when we rely on Him for strength, others notice and believe us.

And what speaks louder to this world than a thankful, joyful man
Who doesn’t appear to have much luck but nonetheless can stand?

Our Lord, He draws us close when we recognize He is near
He puts His arms around us and teaches us not to fear.

The Bible makes it clear that times of suffering will come
And that He will be there holding us through each and every one.

And another thing He tells us is that trials are in store
Because the testing of our faith will help us grow to trust Him more!

So consider it pure joy, my friends when we face trials of many kinds,
Our Lord has paused to teach us that He will never leave our side.

Hold on, my friend, the healing will come through His Power & His Might
It may look different than you thought, but His ways are always right.

Our purpose in life is not to live a life of comfort and of ease
It's to become more like Jesus & our Heavenly Father to please.

-Leslie Nease

Taking God at His Word

Last night as I tucked in my youngest daughter, we were reading about how God is always with us, that He is in control and that He sends angels to protect us.  She beamed with excitement as we read the scriptures; it was as if a new realization was sinking into her sweet spirit.  It was pretty cool because she often struggles with fear and worry and I could see that she was learning that fear is not something she needs to struggle with if she truly believes in God and His promises.


Her child-like faith didn't question anything - she received it and fell asleep peacefully because she knew that if God said it, it must be true!  It reminded me how Rod used to toss her up in the air and catch her.  It never even occurred to her once that he might drop her.  And he never did.  She trusted Him to catch her and enjoyed the experience instead of fearing it.  As her mother I would have to turn my head and look away as my heart about beat out of my chest because of the fear that he might drop her or miss.  Where did my child-like faith go?

As I watched her last night, I realized I wish I could understand this important life principle and rest like she did.  So often in life I struggle with control, worry, frustration and disappointment.  Yet, if I truly believe the Bible is the Word of God, I shouldn't be carrying any of this because in the Bible He tells me not to worry, to release control and to trust Him in all circumstances because His plan for my life is not to harm me but to give me hope and a future.  (Scripture references for these thoughts:  Jeremiah 29:11; Matthew 6:25; 1 Peter 5:7; Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalm 37:3-6)

I read in Hebrews 3-4 the other day that unbelief is actually sin in God's eyes.  God wants us to enter into His rest - to release our worries and fears to Him - but our unbelief keeps us from entering that rest.  The Israelites had the exact same thing happen to them.  Most did not trust, did not believe and did not rest in God's promises - and because of that, they were not able to enter into the Promised Land.

Remember - the Israelites are the very people who saw God part the Red Sea, saw the Cloud of His Presence leading them around, were fed with Manna from heaven and witnessed miracle after miracle! Yet they wandered around trying to get to the Promised Land in the wilderness for forty years grumbling, complaining, worshipping false gods and disobeying God's instructions to trust Him (ouch - sounds familiar).  When it all came down to it, in Hebrews 3:19 we read "So we see that because of their unbelief (the Israelites) they were not able to enter His rest." 


Do you believe God today?  Is your job in jeopardy?  Is there a family crisis?  Is your health failing?  Is a relationship falling apart?  Whatever is going on in your life, can you take a few moments to gain some perspective in God's word?  He doesn't lie.  He is honest, faithful and true.  When He tells us not to worry, He means it.  When He tells us He is in control, He means it.  When He tells us He has a plan for us - not to harm us but to prosper us and to give us hope and a future, He means it.

But do we believe it?

Today, I pray we will all learn to enter into God's rest - the rest that comes when a child of His lives in complete trust that their Father, God, has it all under control.  When we are tempted to worry, to fear or to control a situation, we can pray immediately and ask Him to give us peace in the situation, to give us a scripture to back up His promises and to give us the strength to trust Him to do what He says He will do.

Nothing surprises God or catches Him off-guard.  He knows, He sees, He's aware.  We do not have to live in unbelief!  We must trust Him, friends.  He loves us more than we could ever imagine.

And don't be concerned about what to eat and what to drink.  Don't worry about such things.  These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs.  Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and He will give you everything you need."  Luke 12:29-31

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Where's Your Focus?

A few weeks ago I was motivated to pray for something that I knew would be answered but I had no idea how hard things would get.  I prayed that the Lord would break my heart for what breaks His.  I want to know what breaks His heart so I can serve in that area, learn what He is feeling and be a part of the solution, not the problem.  I want to see people the way He does.  I absolutely believed He would answer this prayer and I can assure you that He has done this.

Now, through the past few weeks as He has stirred my heart and slowly given me this perspective, I've noticed something.  I've been really, super hard on myself.  It's like all of a sudden I see what wretch I really am.  I've really had to struggle to keep my focus on the heart of Christ and not on my sinful heart that was on constant display in my mind.  Then, as I read through the book "A Journey to Victorious Praying" by Bill Thrasher, I read this:
John Hyde was a missionary to India who was known as "Praying Hyde".  He held prayer conventions.  At the end of one such convention, a dear believer was crying to God to give him a heart of love for other people, and at the same time was bemoaning his own cold and hardened heart.  He was interrupted by a friend who lovingly rebuked him.  He said, "Why are you looking down on your poor self, brother?  Of course your heart is cold and dead.  But you have asked for the broken heart of Jesus, His tears.  Is He a liar?  Had He not given you what you asked for?  Then why look down away from His heart to your own?"
Wow!  It was as if God spoke directly to me through this paragraph.  I had been so busy "bemoaning" my own heart that I was completely missing the heart of Christ.  I was focused on my sin and my wretchedness when He was clearly showing me His heart, which is nothing like that.  My focus needed to turn.  When we see the heart of God - the pure, holy, perfect heart of God, we cannot help but understand the wretchedness of our own hearts in contrast to it.  It's a battle not to get caught up in that and allow it to steal our focus, though.

I'm learning that I need to come to God and confess that in my own strength I am a mess - but when I ask Him for strength to turn from my heart toward His and trust Him to move me, grow me, and give me His heart, He will do that for me.  I just need to trust Him to give me Christlike fervency and compassion because I have this whole other part of me that desires to be self-focused and self-absorbed. I feel like Paul when he said in Romans 7:24 "What a miserable person I am!  Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?  Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord."

I will end with this quote from Jim Cymbala..."I discovered an astonishing truth:  God is attracted to weaknesses.  He can't resist those who humbly and honestly admit how desperately they need Him."

Let's be desperate for Him, friends. He wants to help us and He will answer us - we just need to ask Him to help us focus on the answer, not the problem, as He faithfully responds.

Philippians 3:12-14  I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Fear & Trembling

My daughter brought her papers to me to sign this morning just as she was about to leave.  Her hands trembled as she handed them over and she had a slight crack in her voice as she said "The grades are not very good, Mommy.  I'm so sorry."  She had gotten an F on a social studies test and was devastated.  Her first F.  My heart broke for her but I knew she could have done better.  I had flashbacks to my years of schooling and the few F's that came back home for my parents to see.  I shuddered at the thought - F stands for fail.  I hate that four letter word.

After she went to school, I was studying in the Bible and a wave of relief swept over me as I was reminded that salvation is not something we have to take a test for and earn.  I read in Ephesians 2:8-9 "God saved you by His grace when you believed and you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it."  Oh, thank you Lord! Salvation is not earned by works...it's a gift that is given by His grace and accepted through faith.

When the people asked Jesus what they needed to do to perform the works of God, He firmly stated "This is the only work God wants from you: believe in the One He has sent."  Now, the original Greek word used for believe (Gr: pisteuō) actually means "firm conviction, full surrender, and a lifestyle that reflects that surrender."  So believing isn't just agreeing in your mind, it's believing to the point that your belief is so deep that it cannot help but change you.  When you turn from sin and toward God, repenting and confessing, you cannot help but be changed because the Spirit of God dwells inside of you (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).

So if the only work God wants from us is to believe in the One He has sent, then why does Paul tell us to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" in Philippians 2:12? 

The Christian life is not about trying...it's about dying (to myself) so I can live for Him as He lives through me...and that is the hardest work of all when I mistakenly think the world is all about my own comfort & happiness or when I am a control freak.  It is such hard work to not work so hard.  You see, when we work for things, we feel we've earned it and it somehow makes us feel in control - especially when we think our works are good.  The flip side is that when we fail and feel our works are not good enough, we can feel condemnation and devastation because we think we've failed God if this is our way of thinking.

Letting go of that control and trusting God to save us because He chooses to, not because we're amazing and deserving, is mind-blowing. We fight in our human nature to maintain that control.  So working out our salvation means that we are working against our human tendencies to control and earn and instead we work out (notice it is not work for) our salvation by trusting God to do it through us.  How can we trust a God we do not know though?  In order to trust Him we must know Him and in order to know Him we must spend time in His word and in prayer. 

If we keep reading in Philippians 2, after verse 12 that tells us to work out our salvation, we read in verse 13 "For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him."  If you struggle with being in the Word or praying, ask Him to give you the desire.  This verse is very clear that He is the one who gives us the desire to do what pleases Him so if you do not have this desire, talk to Him about that.  He is faithful.

My daughter trembled when she handed me her paper with an F on it.  My heart broke for her as I saw the fear she felt.  She thought she had let me down and she was devastated. She will have to work very hard to bring her grade up in class.  But God is not standing there with a red pen ready to mark up our lives with X's every time we think we've blown it.  He knows we have no power in our own strength to work out our salvation.

Paul tells us to work our salvation out with "fear and trembling".  Those words in their original Greek meaning are so insightful and much deeper than they sound!  The word "Fear" (Gr: phobos) means "reverence" which means a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe; veneration.  The word "Trembling" (Gr: tromos) is used to describe the anxiety of one who distrusts his ability completely to meet all requirements, but faithfully does his utmost to fulfill his duty.

Think about that - "one who distrusts his ability to completely meet all the requirements".  That is what it takes to trust God to meet those requirements for us - when we come to the end of our self-sufficiency and begin to trust in His sufficiency, we've figured out how to work it out.  And when He does this for us, we cannot help but have a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe.  He knows we cannot do it without Him so He does it for us and through us.  What an amazing God we serve!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Resolution or Real Solution?


If you are making a resolution to get in shape this year, your motivation can be very important behind your success or failure.  New Years resolutions in their own power will work for only a few days or weeks as motivation.  Then they start to fizzle...the numbers in the gyms decrease after this time and the drop out rates reported from personal trainers increase.

When I was a personal trainer, I was careful to tap into the passions of my clients.  It made my job easier and it made their workout more effective because they gave more to it.  Sometimes the passion would be for a certain activity or sport, but most of the time it was a purpose or a passion behind the activity.  I noticed quickly that people hired personal trainers because they really didn't like to work out and needed the motivation to do it!  But what I would show them is that the motivation that they needed was inside of them all along - they just needed to tap into it.

Our motivation to work out must come from our passions.  I don't necessarily mean that you will love the work out, but if the goal is to be healthy in order to avoid health risks in the future or to be able to set a good example for your children or to be strong enough to take that mission trip into the mountains of Bolivia, then you will find that motivation a lot easier than if you focus on the negatives of working out.  And once you are motivated, you might be surprised to find that you are enjoying the workout, too!

Think about your family history - is there diabetes, heart disease, obesity, high cholesterol or other issues in the family?  That could be your motivation right there.

Think about your loved ones.  Do you want a better chance at seeing your grandchildren play - maybe even your great-grandchildren? Then you must work hard to stay in shape and be healthy.  

What about your calling in life?  What steps must you take in order to be a good steward of what God has given you in order to fulfill that call?  God has given us all time, talents, treasure and a temple to have and use wisely.  What decisions can you make in 2010 to be a better steward of these amazing gifts?

If the activity itself does nothing to motivate you, you can still find the motivation to do it!  I hope that if you haven't tapped into your passion, purpose or motivation for being healthy in 2010 that you will seek the Lord's guidance and ask Him for the strength to make good choices and be fit in the New Year.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Pierced


I just returned from vacation yesterday where I was able to do some reading - something I love to do!  One of those books is called "Revolution in World Missions" by KP Yohannan (you may get this book FREE by clicking here.)  This book really inspired me to write this poem yesterday as I thought about the truth of the privilege we have been given to serve God.  If you do read this book, prepare to be challenged in ways you may never have imagined!


I hope you will be blessed in reading this poem I call Pierced....

The hands and feet of Jesus are what we’re told to be
To go where He will lead us - to serve in humility

To love and care for orphans, to support the weak and poor
Our lives a living sacrifice with motives that are pure

And yet to be his hands and feet, we must never forget the cost
Christ’s hands and feet were pierced that day as He hung upon the Cross

The piercing was so painful and it held him in His place
While the soldiers mocked & beat Him and death He bravely faced

He was pierced for our transgressions as our sin was cast on Him
We are pierced by our transgressions now each time we commit a sin

We are pierced when those we love don’t respond to Jesus’ Name
Or when we see a suffering child whose illness seems in vain

We’re pierced when our lives seem hopeless and we question God’s intent
If things don’t go our way and our faith seems to have been spent

We’re pierced when we see the Truth but to act means sacrifice
To truly live like Christ, we must give Him our whole life

That means the money that we’ve saved and the possessions that we own
It means the dreams that we have dreamt and the relationships we have grown

But sacrifice is never as hard as the enemy would have us believe
We must trust God enough to give without expecting to receive

For the blessings that we receive through giving of our lives
Far outweigh material things that we can see with our eyes

The hands and feet of Jesus are what we’re told to be
Pierced but raised to new life – walking in His Victory.

Leslie Nease
January 1, 2010




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