Monday, October 31, 2011

The Difficult Path

Yesterday I went on a hike with my husband and our two oldest kids.  It was a perfectly beautiful day in the mountains of North Carolina.  We began our hike up the "difficult" path, a very steep, rocky path that had me breathless in the first minute or so, but it was worth the hours of effort to see the beauty from the peaks of the different mountains we were able to ascend.  Seriously, it was breath taking!

As we were hiking one of the more difficult trails, my daughter Stephanie and I decided we would go slowly.  No need to hurry, we though, because we didn't want to risk hurting ourselves out in the middle of nowhere!  There were these little trees on either side of us at one point that had sturdy branches we were able to hold onto at moments when we felt we might slip. The trail was still a bit wet and even a tad icy from a storm just a couple of days ago.  The branches were so sturdy, it was as if someone was holding out their hands to help us!

Stephanie mentioned how timely it was that those trees were so readily available for us to grab onto at just the right time.  She said, "Every time I feel like I'm going to fall, it seems there is a tree right there for me to hold onto.  Kind of like life - just when I feel my feet are slipping, God always sends someone I can grab onto to help me up."

Ah...this was turning into the perfect day.  Family.  Nature.  Sunshine.  Exercise. And now, a spiritual analogy!  (smile)  I love hearing God speak to me in the things of nature.  As I thought a few moments about what she said, I added, "You know, that's so true.  God always provides someone to help keep us from slipping.  But their roots must be deep in Him if they are going to be able to hold us up!"

Do you have someone in your life who keeps you from slipping?  Do you have an accountability partner, a friend, a mentor - someone you can depend on, whose roots are deep in God's Word and who can help keep you from falling flat on your face in the midst of a rocky, slippery path?  If so, why not take a moment to thank them today? Maybe they are not even aware that they are that person in your life. 

And one more question...are your roots growing deep in Christ and God's Word?  Our roots determine our spiritual sturdiness.  If our roots do not go deep, we will wither away during times of difficulty. (Luke 8:13)

We are not meant to walk this difficult path alone.  We are here to encourage one another, to love each other and to be rooted deep in God's Word so we can be a sturdy help for others in their time of need.  The view from the top will be worth the effort!  And together, we can do all things through Him who gives us strength.

Colossians 2:6-7  "And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow Him. Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Wholeheartedly

Jeremiah 29:11-13 "For I know the plans that I have for you," says the Lord.  "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  In those days when you pray, I will listen.   If you look for Me wholeheartedly, you will find Me."

I read this scripture passage this morning and kept backing up over the word "wholeheartedly".  According to the dictionary, the word means fully or completely sincere, enthusiastic, energetic, etc.; hearty; earnest.  Am I seeking God like that?  Because if I am, that means I'm going to find Him.  There are days when I know I'm not seeking Him like that - the days when I can't find him no matter what or how hard I try.  So what signs can I look for to know if I am seeking Him wholeheartedly?  Here's some ideas that come to mind...

Am I seeking His approval before others?
Am I seeking His will above my own?
Am I seeking His praise above man's?
Am I seeking His Word or the advice of my friends?
Am I seeking His Kingdom or my own?
Am I seeking His truth or the way things seem to look in my life?
Am I seeking fulfillment in what I can do for God or in my personal relationship with Him?

These questions can help me to know if I'm seeking God with all of my heart.  When we seek other things first, even if they are good things, we are not seeking Him with all of our heart.  When we look at things from an earthly perspective, we can lose sight of God completely.  But when we look at things from an eternal perspective, everything changes.

Today, I pray we will not base our faith on our feelings, our friends, our expectations on others or our emotions. I pray each of us will seek Him first above everything else.  He tells us in Matthew 6:33 that when we do that, everything else falls into place.

I like that.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It's Just a Little Sin...


My friend had someone come to her home to fix her broken car windshield. She was disappointed because apparently, they don't replace the entire windshield anymore - seems they just fix the ding with some sort of ding fixer and it supposedly makes it all better. The only problem is, she can still see it! And it's right in front of her face - a total distraction.  She is going to have to replace the windshield altogether at her own expense, since insurance won't cover fully replacing it.

I see a parallel here.  James 2:10  says "For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God's laws." Sometimes we often think that one sin is worse than the other - like maybe if we think an evil thought or gossip "just a little", God won't look at it as that big of a deal.  I've even heard people say they think they will go to heaven since they have never murdered anyone; as if there are sins that we can actually get away with, but some we can't. 

The truth is, once we break even one of the laws, we've broken the whole thing.  Just like my friend's window.  We can try to fix it or cover it up, but the flaw will still be there.  Did you know that God didn't give us the law (the Ten Commandments) so we would follow them?  He knew we couldn't!  He's not putting unrealistic expectations on us - He is showing us our realisitic condition.  According to Romans 3:20 "No one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands.  The law simply shows us how sinful we are."  So, even our seemingly "tiny" sins are enough to ruin us.

Even if the only sin you've ever committed is checking the box "Yes, I have read these terms and agree to the conditions" when you haven't really done it (smile), you are a sinner in God's eyes.  Just like the window that cannot be fixed with "ding fixer", we must be replaced in order to be made new.  Why?  Because our sinful condition is unacceptable to a Holy God - He will not tolerate it and it's for His good and for our good that He judges our sin.  But if all of this seems hopeless, think again.  God's love for us is beyond comprehension.

How do we get "replaced"?  God has us covered by His Insurance Policy....

  
But now God has shown us a way to be made right with Him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago.  We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.  And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.  Romans 3:21-22

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:9

And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. Ezekiel 36:26-27

For more information on what it means to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, please visit www.christianityexplored.org.  





Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Platforms, Motives & Ministry

There can be tremendous pressure in westernized public ministry.  If you are in ministry, you probably know exactly what I mean.  Don't get me wrong - real ministry - the kind that comes from a heart to serve, a heart to love and make a difference for the Lord - that's different.  I'm talking about commercialized, public "ministry" where the world tells you that you must make it big in order to be significant and make a difference - you know, build a platform, create a persona, seize every opportunity to get your name out there - so that's what you do.  You try.  You wear yourself out.  Then you question your motives.   I have been through this and I can tell you, it's the hardest thing I've ever struggled with. There's a fine line between promoting the message God has given you and promoting yourself.

I spoke to a friend once who told me that she was discouraged because she was a Christian speaker who couldn't find anyone to publish her book.  She said that they told her that her story (her testimony) wasn't "edgy" enough.  She didn't feel she'd ever be able to succeed in ministry because she didn't have one of those rags to riches (spiritually speaking) stories that seem to sell books.  It made me wince when she said this.  I knew she was right, according to the publishing world...but I also knew her heart for ministry was genuine and I knew she would be successful in God's eyes - even if that meant she'd never "make it big" in the world's eyes.  He's looking at her heart, not her popularity.  My heart breaks when I hear believers who grew up in a Christian home, who never had to go through a big "gory story" say that their testimony isn't interesting!  I think it's a beautifully encouraging story when you can share with people that it truly is possible to live the Christian life from an early age and it can actually carry you through adulthood!  Wow, that's a testimony in my book.

A couple of years ago, I was in serious talks with a book publisher who wanted to publish a book with me.  We had the first three chapters done and the proposal done.  But then I found out from CBS that I couldn't even mention the word Survivor in my book or they would not approve it.  So I thought I'd just try to change the way I wrote it and not write about anything that had to do with Survivor.  Well, I was basically told that without my Survivor platform, I was not going to be a good risk for publishing because nobody would know who I was.  They closed the door on that deal quickly.  My literary agent parted ways with me, since I was an "unknown".  I was devastated. It hurts to be told you are a "nobody" and it took me a very long time to recover from this blow. 

I was also once told that unless I have a published book, nobody will want to bring me in to speak.  I have a self-published book, but that's different (I was told that a self-published book was a big no-no to publishers, too - I just couldn't do anything right!) I bought into this for awhile and felt very discouraged because I felt that God had given me a speaking ministry - and I find tremendous joy in sharing God's word and my story of His faithfulness in my life with others.  So I prayed.  I just finished my quiet time and I read in Matthew 7 about the wise man building his house upon the rock while the foolish man built his house upon the sand.  During my prayer, the Lord whispered to my heart:  Leslie, Survivor is a sinking sand platform.  I want you to build this ministry on the Rock - the solid Rock - Me.  You may be "unknown" to them, but I know you and I love you.  You are mine.

After this prayer, I gave up my quest to be a more well-known speaker and get a book published.  I just totally let it go.  I was trying too hard.  Yuck!  Usually that is a red flag that I'm doing something God hasn't asked me to do.  Desperation doesn't look good on anyone. It's not about being well-known - it's about doing ministry from the heart.  Ministry is actually out of the overflow of a heart that is full and in love with the Lord.  If my purpose in doing something is so that publishers will notice or so that people will know ME, then I'm in it for all the wrong reasons. 

I don't want to be self-promoting...I want to be Christ-promoting. I want people to seek Him, not me.  And you know what?  God, Himself, has lined up speaking engagements for me this past year and a half.   I've been busier than ever!  He's doing it - not me.  I'm just trying to be content in whatever He has for me at this time.  One day at a time - one step at a time - with my eyes focused on Him. I can honestly say this past year and a half of ministry has been the most rewarding yet...as I just "mount up on wings of eagles" and allow Him to carry me where He wants me to go and serve.

And that book?  Well, it's flowing out of me and I don't care if it ever gets published, I'm going to write it.  It's ministering to me as I write it out of an obedient heart that has no expectations.  If God wants to publish it, He will.  Whether I'm a "nobody" in the eyes of the publishing world doesn't matter because I'm definitely not a nobody in His eyes. (smile)  I'm trying to remember that man's rejection is always God's protection.  God has a purpose in everything and I cannot take it personally.

If you are in ministry and you've found yourself a slave to the way people say you should do things...please, let God speak to you today about your motives.  When I searched my heart, I didn't like what I found.  Was I seeking Him first, or was I seeking a platform?  But in the process, I also found tremendous grace and peace from the Lord.  He will open the doors He wants opened and He will lead me to do the things He wants me to do for His glory, not my own.

This is a tough line - I know it.  Some days I just want to quit everything and disappear all together!  The temptations to build a kingdom of my own are always there and the world is there cheering me on to do just that.  It would be easier just to stop everything and just hide out at home under the covers.  When you put yourself out there, you are vulnerable.  But I have to trust God's timing and His plan and go forward in the gifts and passions He has put in my heart as I delight in Him.

Who knows what God will do in the future?  It's not a focus of mine anymore, though.  I've decided to focus on my relationship with Him and allow all the other stuff to happen in His timing.  I'm standing on His sturdy platform!

I want to encourage you...trust Him.  Seek Him.  He will guide you and direct you.  And if you never publish a book, I guarantee He will still use you.  He's God - He can do anything.  And when He's working through you, so can you.

 Matthew 6:33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.

1 Thessalonians 2:4 For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News.  Our purpose is to please God, not people.  He alone examines the motives of our hearts.


Monday, October 10, 2011

What Are You Living For?

In honor of football season, I thought this was appropriate for all of us.  Will you join me?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Magic Kingdom

Let the memories begin!  Disney's motto is written all over the flags that adorn the outside of their theme parks.  We were giddy with anticipation on the outside gates of Disney's Magic Kingdom at about ten minutes until opening time while we slathered sunscreen all over us and prepared for a day of fun as we park-hopped all across the four theme parks.  We decided this would be the cheapest way to experience the parks - and yet it still cost us an arm and a leg for four people.  We'd better have fun!

Memories of my childhood came flooding back to me like a tidal wave.  We spent a lot of time at Disney when I was a kid - but it was the one over in California (Disney Land).  I teared up a bit as the Mayor came out, along with all of the Princesses and characters waving and welcoming all of us at the gates as we counted down from ten to one and the gates magically opened to our day of fantasy and adventure!

We squeezed through the narrow gates of the park entrance with thousands of other people who imagined this might be a good week to come, since it wouldn't be so crowded (yeah, right - it's Disney!) and were face to face with Main Street USA.  All the people who were working in the stores were standing outside in their fun and bright costumes, waving and smiling - so happy to see us! 

It was all so "perfect".  Walt Disney has managed to tap into something inside of each of us that few people have managed to tap into.  What is it?  Fantasy?  Dreams?  Wishes?  Magic?  It's amazing to me that Walt Disney was fired from a job as a young man for not being creative enough!  There's something about this place that makes everyone who goes there turn into a fool to experience it.  We spend outlandish amounts of money for this experience.  We travel great distances.  We purchase over-priced food and souvenirs.  We walk at least ten miles in a day and endure crowds of people that would normally make us run for the hills.  There was even a recent news story of a woman who tried to sell her newborn baby for $15,000 to take her other children to Disney World.  Unbelievable.  I'm telling you - this is powerful.  I'm intrigued. 

As the morning progressed, we found ourselves looking around as we stood in long lines, watching small kids come unglued as they were tired, hot and done with all the "fun".  People were getting frustrated and complaining about the heat, the crowds, the waiting, the price.  Then a minute later they would pose with a Disney character and all would be well - everyone smiling. 

I know I may seem cynical and I sincerely apologize if it seems that way.  But I am really struggling to understand what it is that we are all drawn to in this fantasy world that doesn't really exist?  Where is the authenticity of this fantasy land?  Is it that what we're drawn to, after all - a place where everything seems perfect and filled with joy, laughter and unity?  If so...why are we looking here?

Friends, as much fun as we had in between the frustrating parts of our Disney trip the other day (and I will admit - it was fun - I'm not trying to deny that!), The Magic Kingdom has nothing - and I mean nothing - on The Kingdom of God.  And His Kingdom is one that lasts forever.  I'll never have to go back.  That is something I'm willing to be a fool for.  I suppose that's why I do what I do - speak and write about His Kingdom.  I think this is why Walt Disney was able to tap into that place in all of us that has made his earthly kingdom very rich...we all have a place in our hearts and souls that longs for this Kingdom.

Oh, friend, can't you see it?  Listen....everyone is eager to enter into God's Kingdom and it can only be entered through a narrow gate, but must be entered into by those who are like children (Matt. 5:3, Matt. 7:13 & Luke 16:16) It is goodness and peace and joy - only it's authentic because it's based on God's Spirit, not a fake smile given by someone who's not really feeling joy down deep (Romans 14:17).  It's a place where we will share in God's glory and be where Jesus Christ is (not a fantasy land with a pretend mouse that has a squeaky voice) and it will be unshakable and will stand forever! (1 Thess. 2:12, Hebrews 12:28, 2 Peter 1:11; Daniel 2:44).

Maybe the reason Walt Disney is such a genius is because he's discovered how to market that void in all of us that screams for filling from God and he's shown that when it's tapped into, people are willing to do just about anything to fill it.  It's a place that God put inside of each of us so we would search for Him.  Disney is an expensive and temporary substitute that satisfies us only for a moment...but it can never replace that void inside all of us that is specifically there for God's Kingdom.  We yearn for it with everything in us...and though it cost Jesus everything to offer us this Kingdom, it won't cost us a cent.




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