Thursday, February 18, 2010

Excerpt #4 - What's Your Bottom Line?

"God destines us for an end beyond the grasp of reason."
-Thomas Aquinas

          Do you find yourself thinking that your salvation is merely a route to an eternal life? Did Jesus forgive you just to make you feel better as you live your life? Obviously, salvation does bring a spirit of peace and healing with it, but when it occurs, do we simply think of the bottom line, of what the end result will be?
          Consider the following verse from Galatians 2:20, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Paul doesn’t tell the Galatians that they should hang out on this earth waiting for death so they can live eternally. If Christ lived in Paul and Christ lives in us, then shouldn’t we automatically and always feel close to Him. The bottom line, the ultimate outcome, is so important, but it is not the only important part of the plan. What we are doing after the moment we come to know Christ and for the rest of our eternal lives requires that we draw near to God for strength, confidence, love and wisdom. It’s easy to slip into the thought process that today I am mostly Christian, but I am also human, so God can’t expect me to be constantly aware of Him. But He does! He has called us to advance His kingdom, to love one another and most of all, to love Him. We can’t answer any of those calls without being close to Him.
          I am a task oriented person, often focused on completing a project or a job. About the time I am nearing the end of one project, I begin planning the next. I feel most useful and fulfilled when I am doing something. My bottom line is not about money or success, but about task completion. This type of bottom line allows me to excuse the fact that I neglect relationships and put projects before time with those people I love. There is safety in my projects. I have control (or feel I have) of the results, I receive recognition for completion and I get to feel accomplished.
My brother is very talented with money management. He views the world from behind financial glasses, seeing the value of work as how much money may be acquired. He feels best about life when he is making money and using that money to make even more. He invests for the sole purpose of making money and he believes that power develops from the acquisition of money. In many ways, in a worldly sense, he is absolutely correct. Money can result in power and control. His bottom line is defined in dollars and sense.
Climbing the corporate ladder is an American dream for some business professionals. Their bottom line is success and for many people, the cost along the way isn’t relevant.  The means fits the end. Entertainers seek a bottom line of success, but in a very different way. Their success is less related to title and more connected to exposure. Even negative exposure is acceptable as long as it leads to their overall popularity.
Parents may create a bottom line in raising their children. Seeking acceptance and accolades from others by having well behaved and highly educated children can become more important than the actual character being developed. The outcome becomes more important than the process of getting there. Unfortunately, most children remember the journey more than the results, carrying emotional baggage for a lifetime. They seem so healthy on the outside because they’ve been trained to do so while on the inside, they’re hurting and confused.
One major mistake we’ve made in recent generations is creating a bottom line of fun and self-indulgence. Many of our children will do whatever it takes to indulge in unhealthy activities that they deem as “fun.” I recently saw a news report where young people were strangling one another just up to the point of passing out because they enjoyed the effects. Drugs have always been an issue in human society because people are constantly seeking entertainment and indulgence. The bottom line becomes a high or certain physical effect and how they get there isn’t a consideration as long as it works.
How does my bottom line affect my relationship with God? What am I missing when I develop a bottom line based on completing tasks? I am getting things accomplished and I’m not hurting anyone in the process, right? Is that really my standard, “As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else…” sounds awfully worldly to me, and yet, I still fall for it at times. When I leave this earth and stand before God, will He say, “I am so proud of you. You completed more tasks than most people. Way to go!” I am thinking not! When I am more focused on the project, when I obsess over deadlines rather than dwell on my Lord, life becomes skewed. I deplete my energy for service and find myself complaining about the value of my life because my heart is unhappy about the loss of spiritual interaction with my Creator!
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. (Philippians 2:12-16)
Paul tells the church of Phillipi and us to work out our salvation. How can we do that without God by our side and Christ in our hearts? I can’t, that’s for sure! God gave me this life on earth. He gave me eternity as well. He expects something of me and I certainly do not want to think that I have run or labored for nothing.  As I write these words, it has never been more apparent to me that God called me to write this book for myself and hopefully, for others, to draw nearer to Him, to never forget that He centers us, He strengthens us and He loves us more than I deserve!
God bless you and keep you as you examine your bottom line!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Taking a Break

I hope I don't disappoint anyone, but I am skipping this week's book excerpt. In honor of Valentine's Day, I am sharing a love letter with you.

For my Husband,
I couldn't sleep last night, so I spent a great deal of time praying...for our children, our family, our friends, even for those people suffering whom we don't even know. During that time, I cried over the heartache of a friend who has stopped communicating, other friends who are living through some life's greatest challenges and the idea that there is so little I can do. Out of the darkness, you heard my quiet tears and asked "Is everything okay?"

In the light of the day, I pondered, "Is everything okay?" You have spent countless hours the last few weeks with your Aunt who has Alzheimers...given up time to keep her from being alone. You have cooked for her and even today, you made heart shaped cupcakes to celebrate Valentine's Day with her.

"Is everything okay?" Our lives have been in turmoil with jobs lost and changed, money running short, a daughter trying to make serious life decisions and washing machines that just don't work properly. And it's supposed to snow!

"Is everything okay?" Haiti is in ruins, our government is out of control and I wonder if we'll ever build a house, with the economy failing.

God tells us that He will always provide. I think most often, in my weak character, I view that provision as financial, material and food on the table. Today, He is showing me a new provision. He provided you. With your willingness to help anyone who needs it, you continuous sense of humor that makes me laugh every single day, your positive spirit, your compassion and concern, your willingness to sacrifice even when not asked, your love for our children even though they're not technically your own and all of the moments when you make me realize that I am seriously loved.

So, yes, Everything is's okay because you help make it so. It's okay because no matter what life delivers, we are together, with our family and friends, and all of those people with whom God has chosen to bless us.

Thanks for asking, sweet husband.

Your wife

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Excerpt #3 - I'm Not Worthy

The next excerpt from my book in progress is very dear to my heart. I have counseled many young women who don't view themselves as "clean" enough to have a relationship with God. I have heard men say that they will get to know God once their lives are in order. I honestly feel that so much of this comes from our society and that rather than being confident in who we are in Christ, we look to the world whether it's through our physical being, the job we hold or just how other people view us. I am blessed to receive emails from other women who think I am some confident, altogether kind of mom and woman. I know that even in their kindness, I can be misled into believing that I have any value outside of the realm of Christ. He is who gives me value, it is in Him that my confidence lies and only through Him can any of my gifts or abilities be used properly. Please do not hesitate to comment, even in criticism, after reading this excerpt. I am here to learn and I know many of you have much to teach! Thanks for reading and may God bless you abundantly!

God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination."
-Saint Augustine
      If you’re waiting until you’re worthy to be close to God, then you’ll be waiting forever. Guess what? You don’t have forever. None of us will ever be worthy of a relationship with God, as long as we’re on this earth. Romans 3:10 puts it pretty succinctly “There is no one righteous, not even one.” God is holy. We are not. He is pure and completely absent of sin. In fact, God can’t sin as it is not in His character to do so. We will never be holy on this earth, but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want a relationship with us. Rather than believe that you’re not worthy, believe that you’re blessed by the love of a great Father and Creator. If you have repented of your sin, God is willing to forgive and He desires a closer relationship with you.
The world teaches many untruths. One of the most damaging myths is that a person belongs to himself. If you’re a believer, by repenting and giving your heart to the Lord, then you are not your own person. God created you, immediately claiming ownership. You also belong to God because He paid a price for you when Christ died on that cross. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)  God determines worthiness, not man. He also decides with whom He will fellowship. I praise Him for not requiring me to be worthy. I’d never make the grade!
Understand that if you know the Lord, if you are a believer, He will never treat you as if you’re unworthy. But you must commit to the standards that He sets, not the world’s standards. Most of us have been treated and even told by others that we’re unworthy. However, when a person calls us unworthy, particularly by the world’s criteria, it is meant to be a devastating, harsh slam. When we read in Scripture that we’re unworthy, that is only in comparison to God Himself. That is a Biblical truth.
A young woman, Amy, came to the Lord after making many serious mistakes in her life. Before she knew God, Amy abused other people, indulged in alcohol and drugs, stole from others and even served time in jail. I met Amy within a month of her praying for salvation. Immediately, I was struck by the baggage that she carried from the sins she had previously committed. She had a loving spouse, but didn’t feel worthy of his love. She has beautiful children and although she fought to keep from losing them to a government foster system, I could tell that she felt unworthy to be their mother. She prayed to receive Christ, but still felt unworthy of God’s love. When it came to God, Amy had it right. She was unworthy, but not because of her specific past sins. Her unworthiness came with her birth. The sins of the father, of Adam and Eve, follow each of us and no matter how good or righteous we strive to be, we must never fool ourselves into thinking that we can somehow acquire enough value to truly be worthy of a relationship with God. When I think of Amy, I also think of Paul. He had God’s people murdered. He used his wealth and position to take the very lives of Christians. Still, God chose to save Paul and change his life forever. Was Paul worthy of the close relationship he would have with God on earth? Not by the standard of past sins. How could he be? Yet, God forgives and He forgave Paul, establishing him in a life spent serving the Lord.
John the Baptist understood his value compared to Christ quite clearly, when he noted in Luke, “But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” If you consider what John the Baptist accomplished in the name of Christ and what he sacrificed, his freedom and own head, and yet he was not worthy! His unworthiness did not prevent John from growing in his relationship with his Lord and Savior.
I have often wondered where John the Baptist’s mind went as he sat in prison prior to being killed. I also wonder if Satan attempted to lie to John about what he believed, his life’s work preparing mankind for Christ’s arrival and how his life would ultimately end. Maybe Satan knew not to waste his time on John, but does Satan know that about you? Satan loves to send us to extremes of thought in order to attempt to damage the truths of God’s Word. For some, the evil one pushes the idea that you’re not quite there with God, but you’ll get there and then you’ll be worthy of a personal relationship with Him. On the other hand, Satan might try to convince you that you’re more than worthy of a relationship with God. In fact, you’re so worthy, you probably don’t even need time with Him as badly as others. Don’t let such evil thoughts lead down the road of faulty doctrine. Both ideas are absolutely untrue.
Only God determines worthiness and He longs for fellowship with His creation. It would take nothing for Him to abandon us to our own sin. Yet, He does not. He reassures us clearly in His Word, “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8) Not only did God maintain a personal relationship with His creation, He sacrificed His son to save that creation. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) The question isn’t whether you’re worthy or not to have a closer relationship with God. The real question is “Do you understand what salvation means?” It means that God chose to save you from your sin so He could spend time with you in eternity. Wrap your brain around that fact…God wants to spend eternity with you. Why would He not want a closer relationship with you now?

Big Charlotte Mason fan? So are we!